TORONTO — How they finished is what mattered most, of course, the Rays capping the largest comeback in franchise history Saturday afternoon with a 10-9, 12-inning victory over the Jays.
But it was how they got there that was the most significant, for now and the future, a tale that started with belief, included perseverance and resolve, and required just a wee bit of luck near the end.
"We just didn't quit today," Ben Zobrist said.
They certainly would have been excused for doing so given how the day started. They were down 8-0 after four innings on a brutal start by David Price, and 9-1 after six.
Even the most optimistic among them didn't envision the happy ending: Jason Bartlett, coming off the bench in his new zig-zag hair style, driving in the go-ahead run with a two-out double in the 12th and Joe Nelson, the last man out of the bullpen, walking the bases loaded and then pitching his way out of it.
"That was a great game for us," first baseman Carlos Peña said, "an incredible boost to our confidence."
"Huge," Nelson said. "Plain and simple, this could be one of those wins you look back on."
The comeback may have been hatched Friday in a secret meeting of hitters and batting coach Steve Henderson. They talked about not trying to do too much and to focus on good at-bats.
"We needed it," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "And we did a really good job with that today. Nobody gave away any at-bats."
That turned out to be the main theme. The bullpen kept the Jays where they were, and the Rays' hitters started to contribute.
"It's easy to throw ABs away when you're down 8-0 after four innings and just say, 'Let's get out of here early and go get dinner,' " Nelson said. But restaurants stay open late in Toronto, and, it turned out the Rays had better things to do.
Manager Joe Maddon stresses they're never out of any game, and he kept his starters in. Soon enough, they hit several key junctures when their belief looked like it could become reality.
Like when Peña, dropped to sixth in the order, lashed a three-run triple in the seventh, then scored on a ground out to make it 9-5. "That was like, 'Hey, we're within striking distance,' " Zobrist said. And when DH Pat Burrell knocked in two in the eighth to make it 9-7. And when Peña homered to lead off the ninth, and Willy Aybar followed an out later with another to tie it and force extras.
They had a prime chance in the 11th, but with the bases loaded, Longoria was struck out by former Ray Shawn Camp. Zobrist started the 12th with a single, and after two outs and a walk, Bartlett, who spent mid game in the clubhouse figuring there was no chance he'd be needed, was waiting for a slider and ripped the first one, the ball landing right on the leftfield line.
"Luck was on our side," Bartlett said.
The adventure, which lasted 4 hours, 24 minutes, wasn't over. Nelson walked Alex Rios to start the home 12th and, after a bunt, was so concerned with Rios stealing that he sped up his delivery and walked the next two.
With Monday starter James Shields the next option ("I would have had to walk 30 to get him in," Nelson said), it was Nelson's game to save, and he delivered against the Jays' top hitters. He struck out Aaron Hill, who had homered twice, and got Adam Lind to ground out. "Never a doubt," Nelson cracked.
The Rays (54-44) matched their season high at 10 games over .500 and moved within 5 ½ games of the East-leading Yankees, who visit the Trop for three games starting Monday.
They also added to a long, strange trip in which they've rallied three times in the eighth to win, once in the ninth and twice in extra innings, and had a perfect game thrown against them.
"We always believe it's possible," Peña said. "And today we just pretty much allowed it to happen."