Grant Balfour first had the thought in the shower after Thursday's Game 2 loss, writing WIN 2 IN TEXAS on the whiteboard in the Trop clubhouse to get his teammates thinking about a comeback. Evan Longoria and some others joked on the flight west that given how they tend to do things, being down 0-2 in the best-of-five series might be precisely the place they wanted to be. Carlos Peña offered motivation and inspiration in Friday's team meeting, imploring his "brothers" to ignore the odds against them and continue to fight and scrap. There was plenty of rhetoric among the Rays about a weekend resurrection, the chance to salvage their reputation as the American League's best team as well as their dreams of a World Series championship, but it was going to take more than just talk. Certainly resiliency. Character. Confidence. And a couple of key hits. Five outs from a bitter end, the Rays rallied to win Saturday, then completed their Texas two-step Sunday with a 5-2 victory over the Rangers. And suddenly, stunningly, they're coming back to the Trop, for a Tuesday night winner-gets-the-Yankees shootout, with aces David Price and Cliff Lee on the hill.
"It just says we're not giving up," leftfielder Carl Crawford said. "We still want to play, we know we can still win and we just want to play it out until the end and see what happens. … You give us a seam and we're trying to get through it. They had a chance to put us away (Saturday) and they didn't, so we might have a chance to win it now."
They just might, and they certainly feel good about the possibilities with Price seeking redemption on the mound. "There's one of two outcomes," DH Dan Johnson said, "and I feel pretty good about our chances."
Just to have the opportunity to win the division series is something of a major accomplishment given how bad they looked in the first two games at the Trop. But they seemed to find themselves and their game over the weekend, much as they did the final weekend of the regular season in Kansas City, and last month in New York, and at several other key junctures.
"We tend to thrive in moments where people have very low expectations for us," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "Everyone was writing us off after Game 2, and nobody believed we'd be in a position to go back home for Game 5 except for the people in this room. And it showed the last two games with the quality of at-bats, the defensive plays, the starting pitching was outstanding, the bullpen was great. …
"It showed the type of team that we are and properly displayed the level of talent and character this group has."
The Rays showed a lot Sunday, starting with rookie Wade Davis. Typically stone-faced in the face of supposed playoff pressure, he provided the strong start they needed, highlighted by a fifth inning-ending bases-loaded strikeout of Vladimir Guerrero.
Longoria, admittedly channeling Kirk Gibson as he rounded the bases on one good leg and one still very sore, delivered a two-run homer and a pair of doubles.
B.J. Upton and Peña continued their October resurgence with two more big hits each. The bullpen logged the final 12 outs. The defense ran down balls and scooped others.
For a second straight day, they played like the Rays.
More importantly, they acted like the Rays.
"It goes back to the 9=8 concept," manager Joe Maddon said. "You're playing nine innings hard every night and you're not giving up and you're not giving in and you're realizing things can change in a very short period of time if you continue to apply yourself. In a lot of situations like that a group will stop applying themselves and that opportunity just leaks away."
History remains an issue, as there has been only one team, the 2001 Yankees, to win a five-game series after losing the first two at home (and only one other, the '81 Brewers, even to get to a fifth game). Only four teams of the 38 to lose the first two in a division series even reached a Game 5 — though in all four cases the team coming back ended up winning.
And there is the little matter of Lee being on the mound for the Rangers.
But the Rays are headed home to play again, and it turned out that all that talk actually said something about them.
"It says everything about this team," Johnson said. "The resilience of this team is astonishing."
"It says a lot," Matt Joyce said. "Don't count the team out; it's a bunch of scrappers, man. Every single one of these guys is going to give you his heart and soul until that last out is made."
"It says," Upton said, "nobody wants to go home yet."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org