ANAHEIM, Calif. — The wins are what matter most at this stage, with two weeks left in the season and a wild-card playoff berth to be won, and it doesn’t matter how you get there.
But Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Angels reflected a team on that kind of mission.
Locked in a scoreless duel through five innings, the Rays got the clutch hit they needed, played the kind of defense they have to, and closed out the game how they want to, with little drama.
"We’re a good team, and we’ve known that for a long time,'' said closer Emilio Pagan. "Definitely, we’ve got to win a game like this.''
The Rays improved to 89-61, including a majors-best 30-13 run since late July. Tampa Bay remained one-half game behind the top wild-card leading A’s, who won again at Texas. And, most importantly, opened a 2½ game lead for the second spot over the Indians, who were swept in a doubleheader by old friend Rocco Baldelli’s Twins.
That left the Rays with a magic number to clinch their first playoff berth in six years of 11 – the combination of their wins and Indians losses - with two weeks to play.
"A half game, 1 1/2 games, two games, whatever it is, you’ve got to win,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "Obviously, I’m scoreboard watching. ... The way you control it is just keep winning games.''
The Rays took the lead in somewhat unlikely-for-them fashion — a big hit with the bases loaded.
The Rays this season have been the worst hitting team in the majors with the bases loaded, going into play Saturday with a .186 average that not only was lowest of the 30 teams, but more than 70 points below the MLB average. Their .548 OPS was second worst and of their 21 hits, only seven were more than singles, with three doubles and four grand slams.
But this was a bit of an immovable object versus an unstoppable force kind of thing.
That’s because after Joey Wendle singled and Austin Meadows walked with one out, and after both moved up, and after Ji-Man Choi walked in a tremendous 0-2 to 4-2 at-bat against lefty Miguel Del Pozo, the Rays had d’Arnaud at the plate.
Since joining the team in May, the former Mets, and briefly Dodgers, catcher has led the Rays in hitting with runners in scoring position (a .341 average coming in). He also leads the team in delivering go-ahead RBI, now with 17.
So when the Angels brought in Taylor Cole as their fourth pitcher of the inning, d’Arnaud responded with a screaming line drive over leftfielder Michael Hermosillo’s head, clocked at 109.8 mph, that cleared the bases.
"We feel pretty good when Travis is hitting with guys on base,'' Cash said. "He’s really come up big for us all season long to this point. And no bigger one than that. We had to find a way to get one across and we were fortunate to get three.''
D’Arnaud said the key to coming through in key situations is to not look at it that way.
"I just try to keep things simple,'' he said. "It’s not only me in the box. The pitcher is on the mound and I don’t know what’s going on in his head, As long as I control my mind and try to keep things as simple as possible, I know I have a good chance of succeeding.''
Glasnow gave the Rays another encouraging performance working three scoreless innings.
Making his second start after missing nearly four months with a forearm strain, Glasnow struck out five of 12 batters, allowing two hits and one walk. He threw 51 pitches (29 strikes), and said he was pleased with how sharp he was overall and specifically with his command, velocity and spin rates. Also, how he felt.
His biggest moment came in his final inning, after allowing a one-out triple.
He got David Fletcher to pop up and then Kole Calhoun looking at a 99.9 mph fastball that was his hardest of the night.
"That kind of reminded you what it’s like,'' he said. "You can’t really prepare for this in rehab starts or bullpens. It was a great feeling getting out of that inning. It was like, All right, cool, baseball again.''
The only Angels run came in the seventh as Nick Anderson threw two wild pitches, but overall the five relievers didn’t allow much else. And despite a pair of errors, the Rays made some key plays when they needed them, two, in fact, by second baseman Eric Sogard.
"For us to win this series, it’s huge, especially with the few amount of games we have left,'' d’Arnaud said.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.