ST. PETERSBURG — The dash home from second after Jason Bartlett's 10th-inning single to make the Rays 6-5 walkoff winners Sunday wasn't that breathtaking by Carl Crawford's standards.
It was afterward when Crawford really had to turn on the speed to make the early evening flight from Tampa International that would take him and his teammates to the All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif.
As players and team personnel scrambled in various directions after the game dragged past 5 o'clock, there was no question about where the team was headed.
Having gone 6-1 on their weeklong homestand and won 10 of their past 12 overall, the Rays got to the break with a franchise-best 54-34 record and eased the sting of their brutal June by getting back to their high point of the season, 20 games over .500.
"A nice number," manager Joe Maddon said.
The Rays will spend the break believing the worst is behind them and excited about the opportunities ahead as they re-open play Friday in New York with a chance to reclaim first place from the Yankees, whom they trail by two games.
"In spite of the tough last month, which is going to happen, we've been able to bounce back very quickly in this month, which we have to do in this division. You can't really lose pace, so we've done a good job with that," Maddon said.
"The little bit of a slide is somewhat expected; I'm glad it happened when it did and not later. Hopefully, we're beyond that and now we could just continue to push forward. You go from 20 to 25 (over). You go from 25 to 30, etc. And that would be our goal short term."
The even shorter-term goal Sunday was to make sure they didn't lose a game they had numerous chances to win.
Even with starter Jeff Niemann unusually off his game due to back stiffness that led to an early departure after five innings, the Rays led 5-3 with Crawford the prime reason. In the first, he created a run by forcing the Indians to foul up what should have been a simple rundown play between third and home. And in the fifth, he hit his third two-run homer of the series.
But they let it get away in the sixth, Dan Wheeler making a few bad pitches and second baseman Sean Rodriguez not covering first on a bunt.
From there, the frustration built before a Tropicana Field crowd of 24,687.
They had a chance to go ahead with two on in the eighth, but Evan Longoria struck out. Then they had a tremendous opportunity to win it in the ninth with the bases loaded and no outs, but B.J. Upton, Reid Brignac and Rodriguez failed to deliver.
Ben Zobrist, on base for the fourth time, singled to open the 10th then smartly stalled just enough on Crawford's grounder to second so there was no double play. After Crawford stole second and Longoria was intentionally walked, Bartlett — the struggling shortstop who had been a pinch-runner in the ninth for Carlos Peña but couldn't score on Upton's shallow flyout — delivered a liner to the right-centerfield gap.
"Much tastier," Maddon said. "To have not won that game would have been very difficult."
"It was big to end the first half on a W," Bartlett said. "Guys kept battling, and we got a W. That's what we did in '08, and that's what we're going to keep trying to do."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.