ST. PETERSBURG — In the end, the Rays just couldn't do enough.
Despite beating the Orioles 5-3 Monday for their 11th win in their past 12 games, the Rays were eliminated from playoff contention about three hours later when the A's beat the Rangers 4-3 early today.
As a result, a season of grand expectation and great pitching ended in disappointment, as they lost control of their own fate by losing too many games along the way, then didn't get the help they needed when they got hot down the stretch.
"That is frustrating when it's out of your hands, but we put ourselves in that position," starter Alex Cobb said. "There were many times throughout the season where we could have held our own destiny. … We let a couple games slip that we wish we could have back, but we're doing all we can right now with what we have."
The Rays (89-71) began the day with only a slim chance, three back of the A's for the second AL wild card with three games to play, a margin no team had ever made up. That left them needing three wins over the A's and three A's losses to Texas, and that just to force a tiebreaker game, or two, depending on what the Angels did.
As the Rays dressed after the win, the early innings of the A's-Rangers game were on the clubhouse TVs, and several said they were heading home with plans to watch, or at least track, the rest to learn their fate.
"As much as I'd like to just go to sleep and wake up and find out," outfielder Sam Fuld said, "I don't think that's very realistic."
Manager Joe Maddon insisted he'd play it exactly that way, planning to watch the DVR'ed version of the Monday Night Football game, read some more of Ken Follett's new Winter of the World and go to bed believing they'd be alive when James Shields takes the mound tonight.
"I'll find out (this) morning," he said. "Regardless, I just love the way our guys are going about their business."
Monday, before a gathering of 13,666 at the Trop, they showed it.
They got a dazzling seven-inning start from Cobb, big hits from Ben Zobrist and third-string catcher Chris Gimenez and a couple of breaks to offset some potentially odd irony and a harrowing ninth. In doing so, they knocked the Orioles a game back of the Yankees in the AL East race.
Cobb delivered what Maddon said was one of the best overall starts of his career, throwing 21 of his first 23 pitches for strikes and retiring the first 10 before giving up his first hit, taking the 1-0 lead from Zobrist's 20th homer into the seventh.
Cobb then allowed one other hit, which tied the score and got the Rays wondering. That's because the homer by Matt Wieters carried just over the short wall in the leftfield corner, not far from the spot where Evan Longoria hit his dramatic Game 162 homer on the final night of last season.
"I thought, man, that's the way we won last year, and is that the way we're going to go out this year?" Fuld said. "It was a momentary period of pessimism."
But the Rays rallied, getting a break when rookie third baseman Manny Machado booted a Longoria grounder, and went on to score three. The big hit was a two-run double by Gimenez, who not only was in the midst of his first pennant race but laughed that he couldn't remember the last time he made three straight starts (mid May, actually).
"Just try to do whatever you can and not screw up," he said.
They still had to survive the ninth as the O's closed a 5-1 deficit to 5-3 with a homer off the C-ring catwalk by Chris Davis off Kyle Farnsworth, then had two on and the tying run to the plate for three consecutive batters.
But Fernando Rodney came on to save the game and, at least for the moment, the season, striking out Jim Thome and Mark Reynolds then getting Endy Chavez on a comebacker to notch his 47th save and lower his ERA to 0.6053, better than Dennis Eckersley's MLB mark of 0.61363.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]