CLEVELAND — For much of the afternoon — heck, for most of the past couple weeks — the Rays have looked like they couldn't wait to get to the All-Star break and forget about their woes. But after a 7-6 comeback win over the Indians on Sunday, they instead had something to savor and, in theory, build upon during the four-day respite.
"It feels like a big relief right now," rightfielder Ben Zobrist said. "Just going into the break, feeling like we're reeling a littler bit as a team and getting that kind of a win to finish off the first half, it's just a much better feeling getting ready for Friday."
The performance was inspiring as they trailed 5-0 entering the sixth inning after another rough start by James Shields. They were down two in the ninth with Indians All-Star closer Chris Perez on the mound and ended up celebrating as they improved to 45-41.
Manager Joe Maddon was so fired up by their performance, he started sharing what sounds like the framework of his second half inspirational speech, talking about how they need to stop waiting for the return of injured stars Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce and step up their own play.
"We need to understand that certain people aren't here, and when they're not here, you don't wait for somebody to walk in the door," he said. "You keep playing, and you believe you can do it even without those pieces.
"We have to get back to believing that. And if we can, then we'll avoid this kind of a rollercoaster-esque kind of a method that we've been going through. We're better than that. I don't care how many guys are hurt. We can beat anybody, any day, anywhere, any time. I believe that."
It took some belief, and four consecutive hits in the ninth, to do it Sunday.
And naturally, the biggest came from the littlest Ray as Will Rhymes, listed at 5 feet 9, 155 pounds, hit just the second homer of his 124-game, three-season big-league career. The other came off Zack Greinke in September 2010.
"I don't deal with that often," Rhymes said. "So it was nice to get one finally."
Elliot Johnson, who was moved into the leadoff spot, singled on the first pitch then took a calculated risk with Carlos Peña up and one out, running on a 1-and-2 pitch. Peña, who rarely hits the ball up the middle, drove a liner to center that Michael Brantley dived for and missed, turning it into an RBI triple (instead of a game-ending double play).
Then Zobrist stepped up and laced a sharp single over first, handing Perez his first blown save since opening day. And the Rays' own All-Star closer, Fernando Rodney, finished for his 25th save to complete the unlikely comeback.
"So Rhymes has not hit a homer since 1837 and Carlos has not hit a ball to that spot since he was 10 and we won the game," Maddon said. "That's how it works sometimes."
The win doesn't erase all the issues of the first half — as Maddon also spoke Sunday of plans to change the pregame routine as well as the mind-set and the need to play better early in games — but it will make the next four days much more enjoyable.
"Being down two against one of the best and our offense hasn't been doing all that great and to come up with that, to get it right there … it was a big confidence boost to us," Johnson said.
"Now we're going into the break, and hopefully we can pick it back up."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays and follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.