ARLINGTON, Texas — As he flew from Tampa to Texas on Saturday, Rays fan Matt Connor never stopped believing his team could beat the Rangers and keep its postseason hopes alive.
The game went just as he hoped, with sharp pitching from Matt Garza and actual hits from Tampa Bay. And Connor was there in his Rays jersey and his University of Florida cap to cheer them on.
And like the smattering of other Rays fans in Rangers Ballpark, he still believes.
"I'm optimistic — win three games in a row!" said Connor, 35, of Odessa, a restaurant owner.
For the Rays fans, the game was a see-saw contest that reflected the highs and lows of the season as a whole.
"The best thing about it is that they're young at heart (and) they've got a lot of heart," said Doug Hawkins, 55, of Plant City. He was in a group of six people from the Tampa Bay area who happened to be working on a pipe rehab project in nearby Irving, which meant they could all come over to watch their hometown team in the playoffs.
"It was the best timing in the world," he said.
Another person who never stopped believing in the team was Phillip Brignac of St. Amant, La., who is the father of the Rays' Reid Brignac.
"This team doesn't quit," Brignac said after the Rays took a four-run lead into the bottom of the ninth inning.
Just then, closer Rafael Soriano uncharacteristically gave up a home run.
"Nah, they're all right," Brignac said.
And they were, keeping the score 6-3.
The Texas hometown crowd was thunderous Saturday, and fans cheered with the hunger of a team that had not seen the postseason in a decade. A hunger that reminded Rays fan Tim Hooper of the 2008 Rays.
"It's new to them the same way it was new to us," Hooper said.
Rays fans were sparse in Rangers Ballpark — knowing the team was one game away from elimination might have discouraged some from making the trip.
But it was hard to miss five members of the Williams family, most of whom wore Rays jerseys with their first names emblazoned on the back. Which meant Ryan Williams, the father, was probably wearing the only "Ryan" jersey in the ballpark that didn't refer to Nolan Ryan.
His kids were optimistic as they came to Arlington. Five-year-old daughter Elli, a kindergartener, said "they're the best team in the whole world."