ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays did it again Friday.
Down late in a game, and looking bad in getting there, they somehow had the will and found a way to win.
The specifics made it special, as it was the first time they came back from three (or more) in the ninth to win since July 22, 2018, vs. the Marlins.
But broader, it was the ninth time this season they trailed by three-plus from the sixth inning on and ended up celebrating. And it was their majors-most 44th come-from-behind win overall.
For all the prepping, planning and projecting — and hundreds of hours talking and texting ― that will be done by team officials and staff to get the Rays as well positioned as possible for a long postseason run, these experiences can do more.
Asked about his dramatic three-run walkoff homer in the 10th inning Friday, Brett Phillips instead spoke to the game-tying rally in the ninth that required contributions from six players, as well as rookie Taylor Walls taking a walk In the 10th ahead of his climactic blast.
“All the credit goes to the guys ... in front of me who just put together unbelievable at-bats in the ninth,” Phillips said. “That’s what it’s going to take down the stretch. That’s what it’s going to take in the playoffs. Unselfish at-bats. Getting on base and letting the next guy be the hero.”
Most of the Rays’ comeback wins have been much less dramatic. And the team could be better in games decided by one run (18-21 through Friday), in extra innings (7-12) and when ahead or tied after eight innings (losing 18 times).
But the experience of coming back so many times creates a sense of calm and confidence no matter the early score, and in a bigger sense just dealing with adversity will serve them well in October.
“You never feel like you’re out of it with our team,” Brandon Lowe said. “It’s one through nine. It could be started at any moment — two outs, no outs, whatever. There’s not a guy who’s going to go up to the plate and sell out his at-bat, just be like, ‘Ah, I kind of want to go home.’ There’s no one on our team like that. Having a group that’s going to battle every at-bat, grind every at-bat, you’re going to have a lot of late-inning rallies like we do.”
Manager Kevin Cash has talked often this season about the resolve and resiliency the Rays have showed, and how it is a team effort.
Friday, for example, he noted the genesis of the comeback began with starter Luis Patino keeping the Tigers at four runs after his shaky start and getting through six innings. Next, there’s typically some good work by the bullpen involved. Then the hitters do their thing, adding to their majors-leading late runs: 298 (of an MLB-most 793) from the seventh inning on and 79 in the ninth inning.
“For whatever reason, the guys have had a knack for getting hot late in ballgames,” Cash said.
Less than two weeks ago, the Rays scored arguably their biggest victory of the season, overcoming a 7-1 fourth-inning deficit to win at Boston. That also was somewhat historical, just the 12th time in 521 games when down by that many they ended up on top. Also, the 11th time this year they came back from down three or more on the road, matching the 2001 Reds for most in the modern era.
“Like I’ve said all year, we just find a way,” Austin Meadows said.
Or as Cash put it: “You’re never surprised with these guys. They stay at it. They stay positive.”
Break out the blazer
The Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will announce the winners of its annual team MVP, top rookie and champion awards before Friday’s game. In what certainly was not expected going into the season, the MVP decision seems to be between slugging catcher Mike Zunino and highest-leverage reliever Andrew Kittredge. Randy Arozarena is the best of the Rays’ group of rookies — and maybe the entire American League.
The back spasm that factored into pitcher Shane Baz not being promoted from Triple-A was the result of a sneeze. … Take out his COVID-19/injury-marred 2020, and Austin Meadows over 2019 and 2021 is hitting .262 with 57 doubles, 58 homers and 189 RBIs over 270 games. … Would one big clinching celebration be better, or locking down a playoff berth one night this coming week and the AL East division title a day or two later? ... Bullpen coach Stan Boroski, among the staff that didn’t make the Toronto trip, said it was “very strange and really weird” to be at his St. Cloud home watching the team playing Monday and Tuesday night. Weirder was Wednesday when he was doing yardwork and came in to see they already were down 4-1 in a matinee start he forgot about. … More and more convinced what agent Tom O’Connell said earlier this season is true: No one loves playing for the Tampa Bay Rays more than Seminole native Phillips. ... It could be quite a postseason for pitcher Ryan Yarbrough, as his wife, Nicole, has a mid-October due date for their first child. … Baseball America’s final 2021 top 100 prospects list has five Rays, with Baz 11th, infielder/outfielder Vidal Brujan 20th, outfielder Josh Lowe 70th, infielder Xavier Edwards 80th and pitcher Taj Bradley 96th. … Travel director Chris Westmoreland and assistant athletic trainer Mike Sandoval earned raves for navigating the rules and protocols to get the team in and out of Canada with no issues. … Season membership plans for 2022 are available as traditional (same seat; options from full season to 22-games) with the chance to buy 2021 postseason packages; and flexible, with minimum price groups starting at $500 with options on seat locations and number of games. … Good luck to multimedia production manager and ace videographer Sterling McLean, who leaves after eight seasons for a new gig with the Pirates. ... Longtime Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak tweeted after Friday’s game: “@Brett_Phillips8 may be the most fun player on baseball’s most fun team. @RaysBaseball #BaseballisFun.’'
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