A tense final week awaits the Tampa Bay Rays

Martin Fennelly: Magic takes a day off against the Red Sox, with a winning streak snapped.
Rays relief pitcher Andrew Kittredge rushes to cover home after delivering a wild pitch during the fourth inning in a loss to the Red Sox. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
Rays relief pitcher Andrew Kittredge rushes to cover home after delivering a wild pitch during the fourth inning in a loss to the Red Sox. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times
Published September 22
Updated September 22

ST. PETERSBURG — And so here we are in the final week of the 2019 baseball season. And here the Rays are too.

In any language — yeah, including French — it’s that time of year, time to get down to cases in the playoff chase, one last week, six games to make a mark.

The Rays are just behind Oakland and practically eyeball to eyeball with Cleveland for the wild card as they enter the final week. It couldn’t get much closer. It couldn’t get more packed with pressure, everything riding on seemingly every pitch.

Well, maybe not every pitch. At least that’s what the Rays have to hope after Sunday’s clunker, a dreary 7-4 loss to the Red Sox. No comeback. No late magic. No you-gotta-believe pixie dust. Snapped was that electrifying three-game winning streak, over the Dodgers and the Red Sox, all in 11 innings, the last two, on Friday and Saturday, on walk-offs.

Saturday, it was back to a slow crawl.

But the Rays remain in position to make this happen, after all the injuries, all the changes, all the ups and downs. They can do this. As young as they are, they know it.

It’s the Red Sox tonight, an end to this odd wrap-around series. Then the Yankees for two before three in Toronto to end it. It’s time for these Rays to step up one more time, to take up the cause, just as the Rays did under another manager, Joe Maddon, who made crunch time their time.

“I want these guys to embrace it too,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said before the game. “Joe set the tone, especially with those banners up there. He definitely thought it was best to embrace it. There are differences, but the bottom line is you don’t get this opportunity every year. It just doesn’t happen. That was the thing we talked about as a group six weeks ago, let’s embrace this. We’ve got to go. Because there are a lot of guys in that clubhouse who have not been in this situation and might not get another opportunity. We have a lot of young guys, but it’s hard to do this.”

Sunday did not help. Starting pitcher Ryan Yarbrough gave up six hits and four runs in the first inning, three on a homer, and the Rays never did catch up to the Red Sox, as the defending world champions were in full spoiler mode, capitalizing on Rays mistakes.

But maybe you’d rather be somewhere else but close to the playoffs?

“We’re all caught up in it,” Cash said. “Anybody who says they’re not is lying. I’m caught up. Scoreboard watching, whatever you want to call it. The first thing after we’re done is I get on my phone and get the scores.”

I have no idea if the Rays are going to catch Oakland or if they can hold off Cleveland. But they want you to know something.

This will be fun.

“Lots of fun,” Rays infielder Wendle said.

Here’s how much fun.

They can’t fall sleep.

Ask Rays shortstop Willy Adames, who won Friday’s game over Boston with a walk-off RBI single. Saturday night, it was Nate Lowe’s walk-off two run homer.

“I woke up at like six this morning and I couldn’t go back to bed,” Adames said. “That’s how excited I am. You know that feeling when you’re a kid? In the Dominican, we used play games every Saturday. I used to sleep in my baseball clothes. I just couldn’t wait. That’s how I felt this morning. That’s how we’ll feel all week.”

Six games, seven days.

The Rays already have 92 wins. But they can’t have another day like Sunday.

“Eventually you do run out of mulligans,” Cash said. “We’re not there. But we’ve got to make sure we don’t get to that point.”

Who knows how many chances this team gets in this town before they start signing players up for French lessons?

It won’t be easy. It almost seemed as if the Rally Rays had sucked all the energy out of themselves and their ballpark with those walk-off wins on Friday and Saturday. They had nothing Sunday.

They need to bring everything beginning tonight.

It will be fun. Probably not enough fun to sell out Tropicana Field the next three nights, though a regular baseball town might do just that. The tarps in the upper deck are safe for now. It’s just a matter of whether the Rays end up under a tarp themselves.

There will be pressure. And there will be a need to decompress. For Cash, that means one thing.

“I get on a boat and go fishing.”

After the loss, Cash smiled and said, “I’m heading there right now.”

“We are so close, so close,” Adames said.

It’s just a matter of reeling it in.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly



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