OAKLAND, Calif. — Before the 7-2 loss to the A's and Steven Souza Jr.'s hip injury, or at least scare, Wednesday started with good vibes in the Rays' clubhouse.
That was the carryover from the stunning comeback win the night before — down a run, two outs in the ninth with nothing doing — stirring some thoughts of deja vu to the improbable run that carried the 2008 Rays to the World Series.
"It's hard not to, really," then-and-now pitching coach Jim Hickey said, "because I think the similarity is the fact that people like Shane Peterson are getting the big, big hit, and Adeiny Hechavarria. And that was the case in '08, too. There were guys that had walkoff hits that you and I couldn't even name now. (Nathan Haynes!) So, yes, in a way it does."
Veteran third baseman Evan Longoria was making a similar connection to the Rays' playoff teams, saying, "We haven't been winning games like that around here for a while. The last couple years we'd just roll over and lose that game. It's fun to watch. And everybody is contributing."
Whether these Rays can have the success that those Rays had will make for entertaining and interesting theater over the next 2½ months, but they did head home after a 4-2 trip to Anaheim and Oakland 51-45, leading the AL wild-card race and within three games of the East-leading Red Sox.
So, who do you start in that playoff opener, Chris Archer or Alex Cobb?
Wednesday's loss was disappointing, especially because the Rays had a 2-0 lead over A's ace Sonny Gray going to the fifth. But unless Souza's hip strain turns out to be more serious than they're expecting, it wasn't anything to tarnish what they've done.
"I don't really look at this as a down," manager Kevin Cash said. "We've played really good baseball on the West Coast. I think if you ask any East Coast teams, it's always a little bit of a challenge. We have found ways to win tight ball games. Today, we got beat."
Rookie Jake Faria had exceeded all expectations in rolling off seven straight quality starts — 4-0, 2.00 ERA — so Wednesday's messy outing wasn't really unexpected and can certainly be forgiven.
The only real damage came in the fifth, which started with two walks and included a run scoring on a wayward changeup, though Faria — showing maturity beyond his 23 years in the clubhouse — wasn't pleased with the full ledger.
"I don't think it was just the fifth inning," he said. "It was everything leading up to that. How many hitters did I fall behind 1-0, 2-0 and have to work my way back? Eventually it's going to catch up to anybody who does that."
As big of an issue, the Rays scored only two runs, but that happens sometimes to usually virile offenses.
A playoff race is like that, highlighted by days when everything clicks, stained by days when nothing goes right, and primarily filled with those in between.
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It's the teams that have the necessary talent, the right mix of confidence and chemistry, and a certain amount of mojo that can make something special happen.
Is this one?
Check on the first one, given the depth of the lineup and quality of arms. "This team is really good," Hickey said. "It's kind of exciting."
And check on the second, which has been building despite a steady stream of injuries, making a next-man-up mentality part of the mantra.
As for the nebulousness of the third, Cash points to how they have found ways to win close games late. Tuesday was the fifth time they won when trailing after eight, the most of any AL team. (By comparison, they were 0-83 last year when trailing after eight. And 3-56 in magical '08.)
But they also need help, including from their front office. Adding a proven bullpen arm is properly the top priority, but they're also looking for a bat — they were in to some degree on J.D. Martinez before he went to Arizona — and, given Blake Snell's issues, you wonder if maybe even a starter.
Don't expect top-shelf shopping, but there is a sense the Rays are serious about legitimate upgrades, and working hard to get them sooner rather than later, before options shrink and prices (in prospects and/or big-leaguers) rise nearer the July 31 deadline.
With 66 games left, a lot still has to go right for the Rays.
Archer or Cobb?
Wouldn't that be something special to debate?