ST. PETERSBURG — There the Rays were again Saturday, making life tougher for themselves.
At a point in the season where wins are really all that matters — whether in building momentum for the playoffs, staying in the division race and/or rebuilding confidence after the latest wave of injuries — they seemed headed toward giving another one away.
They gave away most of a five-run lead in a rough sixth inning that included two errors, then saw their most trusted reliever, Pete Fairbanks, make a mess in the eighth, throwing a wild pitch to allow the tying run to score and walking in the go-ahead run.
But these Rays, on this night, weren’t done, cobbling another dramatic ninth-inning rally and celebrating a 7-6 walkoff victory — their majors-most 11th — as Josh Lowe delivered the game winner with a two-out opposite-field single.
“Yeah, it did (look bad), but it didn’t end up that way,” Lowe said. “We lose guys to injury, we have things not go our way, but this group’s resilient. Everybody’s been saying it. Doesn’t matter who goes down — somebody else is going to step up and go out there and play as hard as they can. So we were able to show that (Saturday). And that was a good win for us.”
Good enough to improve the Rays to 95-61, ensuring that if they are a wild card they will have the top seed and host the best-of-three one-site series Oct. 3-5, and keeping them 1 1/2 games behind the American League East-leading Orioles, who won at Cleveland, with six games remaining.
The winning rally off closer Jordan Romano was started, no surprise, by Yandy Diaz, the last of his four hits on the day (bumping his average to .327) a double he tucked just inside the rightfield line. “The guy’s amazing,” manager Kevin Cash said. “That’s why we lead him off, get as many at-bats as possible and get him up there.”
Harold Ramirez, who earlier preserved the Rays’ lead by throwing out Whit Merrifield at home for his first career outifield assist in 246 games, singled to move pinch-runner Raimel Tapia to third.
Then Curtis Mead, one of the rookies who will play an increased role given recent injuries, singled to left to score Tapia with the tying run. “Honestly, I wasn’t awesome up until that point (0-for-4 and an error), so to be able to kind of put that behind me and come up in a big moment is cool,” he said.
Isaac Paredes struck out, bringing up Junior Caminero, the 20-year-old prospect who was making his debut after a Friday callup, having already logged his first hit earlier, and pointing to his parents in the stands as they shared in the moment.
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For this at-bat, he grounded to short but hustled down the line, spreading his arms in a safe sign as he just beat the throw — as it took a replay reversal to prove — to avoid the inning-ending double play and get Lowe to the plate.
“Right when made contact with the ball, I knew I had to hustle,” said Caminero, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “With the help of God, I was able to help the team win right there.”
Said Diaz, via Navarro: “I think we won the game because of Junior running down that line.”
Lowe, who earlier hit his 19th homer, a three-run shot, still had to do his thing. He lined a single to left, improving his average with two outs and runners in scoring position to a staggering .451 (23-for-51) for his first walkoff hit.
“Just trying to put the ball in play and let good things happen,” he said.
A happy ending seemed unlikely as the Rays let the Jays back in the game in the messy sixth inning, with reliever Shawn Armstrong having a big hand in it, allowing four consecutive hits after coming in with two outs and two on.
Then Fairbanks made his mess. That was the second time in a week Cash brought him in in the eighth inning, and it didn’t work. With two outs and the tying run on third, Cash wanted Fairbanks to face Vlad Guerrero Jr. for “probably the biggest out of the game.”
But Fairbanks had little command. He fell behind 2-0 and bounced the next pitch, which catcher Christian Bethancourt couldn’t corral, allowing the tying run to score. Making it worse, Fairbanks walked Guerrero and Cavan Biggio, hit Matt Chapman to load the bases, then walked Merrifield to score the go-ahead run.
“That could have been a very frustrating loss,” Cash said. “It felt like the sixth inning has kind of bit us now, back-to-back nights. I’d say this one a little bit more. We’ve been really good defensively. They’re a good team over there, they capitalized.
“We gave them an opportunity and they pounced all over it to get themselves right back in the game, so I’m really happy that we got frustrated but we didn’t get too frustrated to keep us in the ballgame and find a way to win.”
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