ST. PETERSBURG — I don’t know how the Rays avoided being swept out of a series by the Mariners on Wednesday afternoon. I don’t know if they deserved to avoid a sweep.
But here’s the thing: They did it, and in walkoff style, 7-6.
The box score at Tropicana Field said the Rays came back in the ninth after Seattle had threatened the sweep with three runs in the top of the inning, punctuated, for old time’s sake, by former Rays outfielder Mallex Smith, who tripled in two runs.
Maybe this is how the Rays are going to make the playoffs against all odds. Maybe they’ll just will themselves to do it, exactly as they did Wednesday. Well, maybe not exactly. When you’re celebrating a walkoff win off a wild pitch, you’re living right.
Who cared Wednesday? The Rays are in a stretch of 21 games against decidedly bad teams, and the win made them 11-6 during the stretch, including three walkoff wins in five days. They’re all but tied for the second AL wild card with Oakland as Kevin Cash’s club headed to Baltimore for a four-game series with the nearly criminally awful Orioles.
This is the stretch where the Rays need to make some hay. Heading into the bottom of the ninth Wednesday, they had made a mess. Yes, they had won two of three from last-place Detroit over the weekend but could have just as easily lost all three. Now the last-place Mariners, whom the Rays swept two weekends ago in Seattle, seemed poised to return the favor after the Rays bullpen, namely Emilio Pagan, blew the save in the ninth.
The Rays managed. Pagan got the win.
“We willed ourselves,” said centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who broke out of a slump with four RBIs, including a tying home run to center to lead off the ninth.
“It was a needed win,” Cash said. “Bottom line, maybe it wasn’t our prettiest baseball, certainly over the last four, five days, it hasn’t been going that easy for us. It’s good to see the guys really fight through it and overcome some adversity.”
In case you’re wondering, it’s going to be like that the rest of the way, every day, if the Rays are going to pull this off. It’s easy to wonder why they are 20 games over .500, which is amazing enough. You need games like this one to come shining through.
On Wednesday, the Rays needed KK. They needed three hits and an RBI from Travis d’Arnaud. They needed a home run from Guillermo Heredia and robbery from his glove in rightfield, running down a liner in the corner in the fourth to save two runs in an inning that was getting away from starter Charlie Morton. They needed a solid, hitless two innings by reliever Colin Poche after Morton exited the game after five innings.
And they needed to pick themselves up after Pagan couldn’t close it out. You need to pick yourselves up a lot in the middle of a playoff chase. That’s just how it works.
How it worked in the ninth Wednesday was Kiermaier’s homer, followed by a Willy Adames single, a Mike Brosseau double and an intentional walk to Ji-Man Choi. Then, the stare down at-bat from Tommy Pham until Magill uncorked a curve in the dirt that bounced away to bring in Adames.
The celebration was on, somehow, some way.
If the Rays go and blow it all in Baltimore, they have only themselves to blame.
That’s for tonight.
“We have to dig deep, look ourselves in the mirror and do whatever, because we need to go handle some business in Baltimore and start putting teams away like we’re capable of,” Kiermaier said.
You have to look in the mirror every day, even when the mirror appears cracked. That’s how it works in playoff races.
Where there’s a will, sometimes there’s a wild. With a W.
Contact Martin Fennelly at email@example.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.