NEW YORK — Now comes the even harder part.
Having battled to get this close, the Rays head home for the final six games of the season knowing they pretty much have to win them all to have a shot of making up the two games they are behind the AL wild-card-leading Red Sox.
OF Matt Joyce and 3B Evan Longoria were talking before Thursday's game and pretty much came to the conclusion that became a point of conversation around the clubhouse.
"I think we have a really good shot,'' Joyce said. "We came in here before the game and we're like, 'You know what? Let's just win every one. Let's just win the rest of them and see what happens.' "
Manager Joe Maddon said by his math, the Rays have to win at least five of six, and probably all six. While the Rays are playing the Blue Jays then the Yankees (whom the Rays are hoping will be more concerned with setting themselves up for the playoffs), the Red Sox play at the Yankees (where the natural rivalry takes over) and at the Orioles, who just beat them three of four.
"Boston playing Baltimore in Baltimore, that's not going to be easy,'' Maddon said.
BACKED UP: RHP Jeff Niemann said upper-back soreness was the reason he was pushed back from starting Thursday, but he had no concerns about being ready to go Saturday: "I'm going out there, period. That's gonna happen."
Niemann missed six weeks earlier this season with a lower-back strain. He said the new soreness wasn't a factor in him pitching only five innings Saturday, but it became an issue the next day: "I didn't feel quite right after the game, and it didn't recover as well as we have in the past. It's not anything."
CLOSING TIME: RHP Kyle Farnsworth said he hoped to be available for late-inning duty tonight after coming through Wednesday's 45-pitch test of his right elbow feeling good. "No soreness when I woke up today, which is good, I think," said Farnsworth, who last pitched Sept. 10.
FIT TO BE TIED: If the Rays end up tied with either the Red Sox or Angels for the AL wild-card spot, they have the tiebreaker over both and would host a one-game playoff Thursday. If all three tie, there would be two playoff games. The Rays would be the top seed based on that tiebreaker and have the choice of playing in the first game and potentially hosting both, or taking a bye and playing only the second game but on the road. (For more, see tampabay.com/blogs/rays)
HOT STUFF: Joyce admitted he might have made contact with home-plate umpire Brian Knight during his final-out outburst Wednesday night but said it was incidental and does not expect to be fined or suspended.
"I don't feel like I should be," Joyce said. "It wasn't like I went up and chest-bumped him. If anything I may have brushed him, but it wasn't on purpose."
MISCELLANY: Saturday's game was not included on Sun Sports' schedule and won't be added but is being shown by MLB Network. … INF/OF Russ Canzler got his first major-league hit. … DH Johnny Damon got his 2,717th, moving into 58th place all time, four shy of Lou Gehrig. … Maddon said RHP James Shields would probably start Monday against the Yankees, with RHP Jeremy Hellickson getting the extra day's rest.