ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays aren’t making it easy. That’s for sure.
But they’re getting it done.
And that’s what matters.
A third straight game came down to their last at-bat in extra innings.
And for the third straight time they pulled it out.
Saturday they beat the Red Sox 5-4 in 11, as rookie Nate Lowe hit a two-run walkoff homer after Travis d’Arnaud led off with a double, which was after Diego Castillo gave up a go-ahead homer in the top of the inning.
"We don't have a choice,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “A lot of guys are doing some big, big things for us. But the way we're playing, the other teams are playing, we've just got to find ways. And the guys, give them a lot of credit. They certainly do that.’’
The win improved the Rays to 92-63 and, more importantly, gave then a one-game lead for the second wild card heading into the final week of the season as the Indians blew an early 4-1 lead and lost 9-4 to the Phillies.
The Rays remained two games behind the wild-card leading A’s, who Saturday won for the ninth time in their last 10 games.
The homer Castillo gave up to Mitch Moreland with two outs in the top of the inning would be deflating to most teams.
But not to these Rays, not after what they’ve been doing recently.
Wednesday, the Rays rallied to tie in the ninth off Dodgers star closer Kanley Jansen then won it in the 11th. Friday, they bounced back after their closer, Emilio Pagan, blew a two-run lead and walked it off in the 11th on a single by Willy Adames.
So looking at the one-run deficit Saturday, they insisted they remained confident and even excited.
“Everyone was coming into the dugout screaming, “Let’s go, let’s go! Game’s not over. We can still win it!’ ‘’ d’Arnaud said. “This team’s been like this since I’ve been here. And it’s contagious.’’
As “irritating” as the deficit was, Cash sensed the same.
“I think everything that led up to that, and these last couple games allows us that confidence that we’re one swing of the bat away or a couple big hits away,’’ he said.
That d’Arnaud started the rally was the least surprising part. “He’s so clutch, it's amazing,’’ Cash said.
That Lowe delivered the big hit, well, that kind of was surprising. As the powerful lefty walked to the plate to face Josh Smith, the 11th Boston pitcher of the night, he was 6-for-37 with 17 strikeouts since being called back up, and hadn’t homered since Sept. 1.
“That was huge,’’ Cash said. “I know he needed it. It’s funny, we were talking, it might have been his longest homerless drought that he’s had as a professional player. … Certainly his at-bats have been challenging. We talked about it the other day, where we’ve asked him to go up and face the best reliever off the bench. That’s not ideal to ask a young player to do, and certainly not judging him on it. We know he’s got a lot of power, a lot of potential and he’s going to be a big part of us moving forward. He came up big today, for sure.”
The ball sliced down the leftfield line and eventually over the low wall, and Lowe threw up his arms in celebration quickly.
“I kind of had a pretty good feeling. It was a fair or foul situation. Fortunately, it stayed fair and carried far enough,’’ he said.
“As cliche as it sounds, there’s not a whole lot better than hitting a walkoff home run in a pennant race. Being able to do here it today, it’s great and I’m thankful for it.’’
Lowe was the third player in Rays franchise history to hit a homer that took them from losing to celebrating a walkoff win, joining Jonny Damon (2011) and Kevin Stocker (1998), and his feat was celebrated wildly as he was stripped of his jersey and undershirt on the field and bathed in sports drink.
It was the ninth walkoff win for the Rays this season, seventh in the last 20 home games.
“As corny as it sounds, I feel like since the beginning of the year, it’s felt pretty special,’’ starter Tyler Glasnow said. “As it creeps closer to playoff time and as when finish games like that, there’s definitely a little extra spice in there. (Friday) and (Saturday), it was pretty unbelievable so hopefully we can carry that into the next couple games.”
The franchise-first three straight extra-inning games have been both exhilarating and exhausting.
“I feel bad for my mom,’’ Cash joked. “I’ve got to check on her when we’re done here.’’
The Rays went up 2-0 early and took a 3-1 lead to the eighth only to see an unexpected turn of events, as reliever Nick Anderson, so dominant since they acquired him July 31 from Miami, gave up a two-run game-tying homer to Rafael Devers, eventually sending it into extra innings.
The Rays had taken the 2-0 lead with a rally that include d’Arnaud singling in Austin Meadows, then Joey Wendle lacing a bases loaded liner that second baseman Marco Hernandez couldn’t handle, scoring Ji-Man Choi. They had a chance for more, but d’Arnaud was thrown out at the plate.
The night started well for the Rays, with three scoreless innings, seven strikeouts and a bunch of 98-99 mph fastballs from Glasnow in his third start back from the injured list.
The Rays then moved on to their next rehabbing-in-a-race project, as Yonny Chirinos made his first appearance since being sidelined in early August by an inflamed middle finger.
Chirinos got off to a rough start, his second pitch hit out of the park by Xander Bogaerts. But Chirinos settled in after that and got the next three out to make a solid, albeit brief.
The Rays made it 3-1 in the seventh on a massive homer by Adames, a career-best 462-foot blast to center that struck the D-ring catwalk on the way down, his 19th of the season.
Anderson blowing the lead in the eighth was unexpected, as he’d allowed only one run in his first 19 games for the Rays.
But the Rays rallying to win it, for the third straight game in 11 innings, not so much.
“We’re excited about winning the games the way we are,’’ Lowe said. “This has been huge for us.’’
And, as d’Arnaud said, “11’s our lucky number.’’
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.