If the Rays end up back in the playoffs this season, Thursday night's come-from-behind 5-4 victory in 10 innings over the Twins might be one they look back on fondly.
Coming off a frustrating June, Tampa Bay began July with a bang, overcoming two deficits, including scoring the tying run in the ninth when it was down to its last out. Carl Crawford, who delivered an all-star performance, singled with two outs in the ninth, and Evan Longoria knocked him in with a double.
In the 10th, Reid Brignac came through with a leadoff pinch-hit single, moved to second after Kelly Shoppach was hit by a pitch and scored on designated hitter Willy Aybar's go-ahead single.
"Everybody battled," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "When we were playing well at the beginning of the year, it was more like everybody had a little piece of the ownership. Those are the kinds of wins I really like. I also like extra-inning wins on the road. I think that really demonstrates a lot of character within your group."
With their second straight win, the Rays (46-32) remained two games behind the first-place Yankees in the American League East.
"We always play nine innings hard," Maddon said. "It goes back to the 'nine equals eight' mantra from two years ago. ... Carl had a wonderful night to set that all up."
Crawford finished 4-for-6 with two runs scored, an RBI and a stolen base.
Lance Cormier, who pitched a perfect ninth, picked up the win, and Rafael Soriano notched his 20th save.
The Rays worked their way back from two runs down to take a 3-2 lead on a Crawford single in the seventh. But former Ray Delmon Young tied the score 3-3 with a solo homer in the bottom half, and the Twins added a run in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Jason Kubel to put them ahead.
"We've been trying to get that winning feeling back," second baseman Sean Rodriguez said. "It shows we're definitely not going to give up in any game, especially with the potential we know we have."
Starter Jeff Niemann pitched well enough to win, giving up three runs over 62/3 innings. "He gave us a chance," Longoria said.
Crawford gave him a huge helping hand in the fifth when, with a runner on second and two outs, he raced back near the warning track in left-center for a spectacular catch to rob Joe Mauer.
In the ninth, with the Rays trailing 4-3 and Crawford down to his final strike, he kept the Rays alive with a single.
Longoria, who has had his struggles lately, said he was on deck "praying that CC would go on again to give me another chance."
Longoria entered the game batting .160 over his previous 13 games with no extra-base hits and two RBI. But he picked the perfect time to snap out of it.
"I've had those opportunities as of late, but because of my problems at the plate, I haven't been able to convert," Longoria said. "It was nice to finally come through in a big spot."
Reliever Randy Choate, who who was charged with the Twins go-ahead run in the eighth, was grateful the offense "bailed me out." And he said Longoria's huge hit is not only a good sign for the All-Star third bseman, but also the team.
"A lot of times we roll with Longo, he's a big RBI guy for us," Choate said. "For him to come up with the clutch hit, that's the Longo we know."
Aybar said that once the Rays tied it, they had a good feeling.
"Everybody's like, 'It's 0-0.' And then, we win," he said.
The Rays talked about how a win like this could build momentum. "Hopefully this is the start of something to get us going again," Crawford said.
After all, this is the first time Tampa Bay has won back-to-back games since winning three in a row June 6-9.
"We're hot," Maddon said, smiling. "Feel the heat."