TORONTO — The Rays were saying exactly what you'd expect them to Friday, that the final verdict on their night's work was the final score, a 9-8 victory over the Jays.
"You'll take it any way you can get it," manager Joe Maddon said.
"Especially this time of the year," centerfielder B.J. Upton said.
But they couldn't feel too good about it.
Not after scoring six runs in the first inning and leading 8-1 in the fourth with James Shields, their most established starter, on the mound, and then letting it all get away. And not after needing a sloppy ninth-inning mistake by the Jays that led to an unearned run, without even a hit, to keep them from what would have been a staggering loss.
"We ended up getting the win," Shields said. "That's all that matters."
Technically, they're right.
The win improved their record to 85-55 and allowed them to move back within 1½ games of first place in the American League East — as the Yankees lost 6-5 to the Rangers in 13 innings — and increase their wild-card lead over the Red Sox — who lost 5-0 to the A's — to 7½. (The White Sox won to pull even with the Red Sox.)
With the score tied in the ninth, their rally, if you can call it that, started with a one-out walk by Evan Longoria off Kevin Gregg, then another by Carlos Peña.
As if that wasn't enough help for the Rays, Sean Rodriguez's grounder to first could have been an inning-ending double play, but with all the Rays running hard, shortstop Yunel Escobar messed up the return throw to first, and Longoria scored.
"That's why you hustle," Rodriguez said.
Rafael Soriano — who couldn't have imagined he would have been needed — ended up finishing for his 19th consecutive save and American League-leading 42nd overall, one shy of Roberto Hernandez's 1999 team mark.
But such dramatics wouldn't have been required if Shields — who felt he threw "one bad pitch'' — had done a better job.
He gave up five runs — including a pair of two-run, two-out, two-strike home runs — and lasted only five innings.
"You get pulled at 70-something pitches (83, actually), and it's almost like you feel like you have a bad outing," Shields said. "And then you look back and … obviously the numbers aren't good, but I felt that I did what I needed to do."
Except typically in that situation, a veteran starter would be expected to do more.
But Shields has had his struggles, evidenced by an ERA creeping up to 4.98, by 211 hits that are the most allowed in the AL and by 32 homers that are second most in the majors and one shy of the team record held by the less-renowned Tanyon Sturtze.
Maddon wasn't taking any more chances after five innings, especially because the two homers Shields allowed followed the six he gave up in his previous start in Toronto.
The Jays are baseball's top sluggers, adding four homers for a total of 222, and Maddon deemed them "the SWAT team of the American League … they can strike at any moment."
And he had seen enough of Jose Bautista, who got two more to push his major-league-leading total to 46.
"He's physically fine," Maddon said of Shields. "It's just a matter of being able to stay in his delivery and make better pitches. But this team definitely gives him a tough time. Is that an understatement?"
Not any more than what they were saying about the whole night.
"Listen," Maddon said, "this time of the year, if you score one more point than the other team, you take it any day of the week."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.