ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays season has come down to a matter of faith.
The faith they placed in starter David Price, in relievers Brandon Gomes and J.P. Howell, and in their offense that left them in this predicament after a tense 4-3 loss to the Rangers on Monday.
And the faith that somehow, some way they have another revival in them, facing a genuine must-win in this afternoon's fourth and potentially final game of the AL Division Series.
"Absolutely I do," manager Joe Maddon said. "We've been here, we've been here several times the last month. So we just have to fill up October with the same kind of moments. No question, I think we're up for it."
As confident as the Rays are, and as many times as they've come back, the challenge of being down 2-1 in a best-of-five series is formidable, with only eight of the 37 teams to trail in a division series coming back to win. "(Today) they are the ones who are going to feel the pressure,'' Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus said.
The Rays will have rookie Jeremy Hellickson on the mound for the 2:07 start vs. Rangers left-hander Matt Harrison. A decisive Game 5 would be Thursday in Arlington.
"We definitely didn't want to go back to Texas," rightfielder Matt Joyce said. "But now obviously we do."
They ended up in that position for several reasons Monday before a sellout crowd of 32,828 at Tropicana Field.
Price pitched relatively well but failed to hold the 1-0 lead he took into the seventh, allowing a leadoff single and a two-run homer to Mike Napoli. That makes three career postseason starts without a win, seven consecutive starts this season without a win and nine starts (regular and postseason) against the Rangers without a win.
"I just haven't got it done," Price said.
With the Rangers leading 2-1, two out and a man on, Maddon went to the bullpen in a high-leverage situation and got a low-end outcome. He called first on Gomes, the rookie who had exceeded expectations for a month, and he walked both batters he faced. Then, with the bases loaded and Josh Hamilton at the plate, called on Howell, the rehabbed veteran who has been struggling but was on the roster (ahead of Cesar Ramos) for these situations. It didn't work out well, Hamilton singling in two runs.
"It was really bad," Howell said. "It's one of those things where there's a lot of anger inside me."
And the offense, so robust in the first two games and much of the past month, was again missing most of the night. The only hit the Rays had through six innings against starter Colby Lewis was Desmond Jennings' fourth-inning home run, and when they rallied late against the Rangers bullpen, they familiarly couldn't get the one big hit they needed, ending the night 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, stranding three at third.
"We had opportunities," Maddon said.
But no success. Or the magic that had seemingly been stocked in their dugout.
In the eighth, after Jennings hit his second homer to cut the lead to 4-3, B.J. Upton drew the first of what would be three consecutive walks from reliever Mike Adams. But Upton got caught stealing on a pitchout, one that Maddon acknowledged the Rays didn't expect and Texas manager Ron Washington admitted was "lucky."
After Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce walked, lefty Mike Gonzalez struck out Johnny Damon and closer Neftali Feliz, summoned for just his second four-out save of the season, hit 100 mph and he eventually got Ben Zobrist on a checked swing third strike.
The Rays had another chance in the ninth inning, when Sean Rodriguez singled with one out. More concerned about a strikeout/throw-out double play, the Rays didn't have Rodriguez running on the full-count pitch to Kelly Shoppach, and he instead grounded into a game-ending double play.
"Tonight was just something that wasn't meant to be," Damon said.
As they left the clubhouse Monday night, there was a message of hope written on the clubhouse whiteboard:
FOR GAME 5
"We've been underdogs all year: we're not going to make the playoffs, we're not going to catch Boston, we lost too many pieces," Damon said. "We as a team look at each other and say, you know what, that's okay. Count us as underdogs, but we're not going to buy into it.
"And hopefully (today) is another great finish for us here. And we're planning on going to Texas."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.