MIAMI – The inspiring force, and somewhat of the secret weapon, in the Rays' wild, weird and wacky 9-6, 16-inning win over the Marlins was a 30-year-stocky journeyman lefthander who ended the night limping off the field and headed to the DL.
It wasn't just that Vidal Nuno pitched the 14th and 15th innings, and it wasn't just that he rapped two hits, trying to stretch one into a double and knocking in a run during the Rays' five-run 16th with the other, but the all-out vigor and verve with which he played.
"It was fun,'' Nuno said. "It was exciting. That was a long game. It was my turn to pitch, and come up to bat, too. Pretty much did my job.''
Actually, he did much more than that.
Just ask Jake Bauers, the 22-year-old rookie first base whose two-out double in the 16th broke the hours-long 2-2 tie.
"I was lucky to swing; my last two at-bats I was just mentally exhausted,'' Bauers said. "I have to thank Nuno. Watching him give it everything that he had kind of kicked me in the ass a little bit. Kind of made me say all right, this guy is out there selling out, let's end this game for him.''
The Rays had seen Nuno pitch effectively before, his contributions a pleasant surprise since his late May promotion from Triple-A, so the two zeroes, even after allowing a leadoff double in the 15th, were somewhat expected.
But they've never seen anything like what he did with the bat in his hands.
In the 15th, batting with one out, he laced a single to left, then decided to go for more, racing toward second and then sliding in head first, only to be tagged out. In the 16th, after Bauers knocked in the first two, Nuno followed with a single to right, the hamstring grabbing as he ran to first.
"What a performance on his part; that was amazing,'' Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "When he got thrown out at second base, I said just watching that was worth the out. It was entertaining.''
There were plenty of interesting moments as the game unfolded over 5 hours, 31 minutes, ending around 12:45 a.m., and ranking as the longest road game in Tampa Bay franchise history by innings and matching the second longest overall.
The Rays used 22 players total (all but Matt Andriese, who now starts Wednesday, plus Diego Castillo and Blake Snell), having reliever Sergio Romo hit, starter Nathan Eovaldi pinch-run and catcher Jesus Sucre pitch (for the third time in his career), trying to get the final three outs, but needing to summon Jose Alvarado to help finish it off as they improved to 43-42.
"There were a lot of people doing things they were not used to doing,'' Bauers said. "To keep it scoreless for that long until we could break through. … overall, just an incredible team effort.''
And not all good. Starter Ryan Yarbrough allowed a two-run single to opposing starter Trevor Richards and got lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fourth. Outfielder Mallex Smith got benched for missing a red-light sign and running into a double play in the fourth. Carlos Gomez pushed a safety squeeze bunt into the air and Daniel Robertson got doubled off third to end the 13th. Kiermaier came up with two on in the 16th and ripped a ball at shortstop J.T. Riddle that got turned into an odd 6-4-5 double play.
"Typically in a 16-inning game there are going to be some ugly things,'' third baseman Matt Duffy said, "and there was today.''
"The guys kept grinding through," Cash said. "Both teams grinded a long time, some odd matchups, some unique situations that came about, presented themselves. But ultimately we found a way to win.''
Nuno, who became the first AL reliever to have two hits and get the win in a game since advent of the DH, was asked what did he enjoy more, getting the third and fourth hits of his major-league career, or his eighth win?
"Both, actually,'' he said. "When the runner was in scoring position, I had to crunch down and not five up the run. … (The ball I hit) was a little flare right there, I got out of the box pretty good, and just took a chance right there. It was close.
"In the end I just had a great time out there.''