Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Winning series a path back to playoffs for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — The normally chipper Rays clubhouse was especially quiet Sunday.

No music. No laughing. No ice cream. And especially no thoughts of penguins, snakes and the whatnot.

That's natural. Anytime you lose an extra-inning game at home in the heat of the pennant race, the mood is bound to be a little on the gloomy side.

But, honestly, the Rays have no reason to send out invitations for pity parties. For starters, there's no time for that. The race to the postseason continues today with a, get this, one-game road trip to Kansas City.

Beyond that, greed is the only reason the Rays left town Sunday evening feeling a little blue.

After taking the first two games of the series against the Yankees, the Rays seemingly had a dozen chances to win Sunday's game before losing in 11 innings, 3-2.

They needed a hit here or a hit there and a little sharper defense and they would've completed a three-game sweep. As third baseman Evan Longoria pointed out, maybe losing a game like Sunday could be the difference in making the playoffs or going home after the regular season.

So, yeah, if you're the Rays, the afternoon kind of turned out rotten. But the weekend was just fine. And if you're the Rays, that kind of fine is good enough from here on out.

Two out of three. Just win two out of three the rest of the way and they can start printing playoff tickets. Just win every series from here on out and there will be October baseball at the Trop.

"That's a great formula for success," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

Maddon calls it Meat Loafing. You know, two out of three ain't bad.

"I'll always take two out of three in this game against really good teams," Maddon said.

The Yankees are such a team. Getting healthier by the day, the Bronx Bombers somehow have climbed back into the playoff conversation. While they left Sunday night a game closer to the Rays than they were Sunday morning, they leave town a game further behind than when the weekend started.

That's because the Rays won two out of three.

"If we win series, especially within the division, we're going to be where we want to be," Longoria said.

Not all that long ago, the Rays were leaking oil, trying to snap out of the funk of losing five in a row at Arizona and Los Angeles. The three-game sweep at Dodger Stadium was especially disheartening.

Since then, however, the Rays have mastered the two-out-of-three formula. They took two of three from the Mariners, Blue Jays, Orioles and, now, Yankees.

"There's no doubt we have to walk away from a series like this very happy to take two out of three," the Rays' Ben Zobrist said. "Now we've just got to keep trying to work that same process. If we can do that, we're going to be in really good shape come late September."

The Rays should be pleased not only about winning two out of three for the past two weeks but how they are winning two out of three.

Suddenly, Longoria has returned from one of the worst stretches of his career to, once again, being one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He has five homers in the past seven games and is hitting .407 over the past week. He certainly is capable of carrying this team for the final month.

"It feels good to be going good and contributing," Longoria said, "but it can come and go, so you just got to ride it while it's here."

Zobrist is swinging the bat well. Matt Joyce and Yunel Escobar are heating up. New addition David DeJesus, who is 4-for-7 since joining the Rays, has added spark. And the pitching is getting healthier with Alex Cobb back in the rotation and Matt Moore not too far away.

"Keep winning series and we're going to be fine," Rays reliever Jamey Wright said. "We've got a hell of a baseball team, so it's going to be a fun end of August and September."

There are still a few concerns. James Loney (0-for-10 against the Yankees this weekend) has hit a slump. Wil Myers is struggling again (five hits in his past 28 at-bats and one homer in his past 58 at-bats). The bullpen, while continuing to put up solid numbers, still feels a bit wobbly, like it could implode at any moment, doesn't it?

Yet the Rays plow on, repeating their mantra. Two out of three. Two out of three. Two out of three.

"Absolutely," Maddon said.

Keep doing that and, before you know it, you're trying to win four of seven in late October.

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