ARLINGTON, Texas — The moment Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus ripped a fly ball down the rightfield line in Friday's eighth inning, Rays reliever Wade Davis crouched down and waved his arm to the right, joking that he was "blowing" it foul.
With the Rays clinging to a four-run lead, the bases loaded with Rangers and two outs, Davis believed his 10th pitch to Andrus was destined for a tying grand slam.
"I thought it was gone," Davis said.
"It was really close," catcher Chris Gimenez said. "If he would have hit a home run right there, I might have just cried."
But Andrus' drive sailed a few feet foul, and Davis got him to fly out on the next pitch, helping preserve a heart-thumping 8-4 victory over Texas in front of a sellout crowd at Rangers Ballpark.
"I've never been to the playoffs, but I definitely imagine that's probably what it's like," Gimenez said.
Said manager Joe Maddon: "If you had a heart monitor on me, it would have gone through the roof. That's the most intense 8-4 game you're ever going to find in April."
The Rays (13-7), who picked up their sixth consecutive win, appeared headed for a rout over the Rangers (15-5), scoring four-first inning runs in a banner offensive day, racking up a season-high 16 hits. One of the biggest came from third baseman Evan Longoria, who smashed a three-run homer, one batter after first baseman Carlos Peña reached on an error by second baseman Ian Kinsler.
"That totally changed the game," Maddon said of the miscue.
Rays right-hander James Shields, who won his fourth straight start, wasn't at his best, but he battled through six innings, racking up a season-high eight strikeouts in giving up a season-high 11 hits. "I thought I pitched pretty well," he said.
But Maddon said the Rays' 7-1 lead was more like a one- or two-run lead because of the Rangers' potent offense. Texas chipped away with a two-run homer by former Rays prospect Josh Hamilton in the fifth, and a solo shot by David Murphy in the sixth.
But the key moments, and most of the drama, came in the eighth. The Rangers started with back-to-back hits off J.P. Howell. In came Davis, who was moved to the bullpen after failing to win the fifth-starter spot in spring.
Davis found himself facing the bases loaded on two occasions, with an error by Longoria part of it. But after a slider turned into a wild pitch, Gimenez hustled to retrieve it, throwing a one-hopper to Davis, who tagged Nelson Cruz at home.
"That was the biggest play of the inning," Davis said.
But it wasn't over. Davis walked Kinsler to load the bases again after an eight-pitch at-bat, then fell behind 3-and-0 to Andrus, with Hamilton on deck.
Davis worked the count full, and Gimenez went to the mound, telling the right-hander to stick with his strength: fastballs. Davis threw eight straight fastballs, including the near-miss grand slam, before getting him out.
"Player of the game," Shields said of Davis.
Maddon has said he believed Davis could morph into a key late-inning reliever, with Friday's heroics a big example.
Said Maddon: "I think a relief pitcher was born."