In order to punch Wild Card ticket, Tampa Bay must get through Texas
TORONTO -- Ironic that Tampa Bay would extend its season past Game 162 while in Toronto.
After all, the Blue Jays earned all the preseason praise as the favorites to rule the American League following a busy offseason of trades and free-agent signings. Meanwhile, the Rays continued to play the role of the small-market underdog. The Rays' 7-6 win over the long-ago-eliminated Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon insured that the Little Team that Could would continue to chug along.
Tampa Bay will now play Monday at 8:07 p.m. ET against the Rangers in Texas (on TBS), with the winner advancing to play the Indians on Wednesday night in a one-game Wild Card Game shootout in Cleveland.
"To get into the postseason, that's been our main goal since the first day of the season, to put ourselves in a position at the end of the year to play postseason baseball, and that's what we've done," said David Price, who will start for the Rays Monday night. "And we keep with the same mindset with one more game, and we did a good job today."
Added Rays manager Joe Maddon: "It's wonderful to be playing another day ... so I'm happy with that. It seems like we just got done playing Texas. It seems like we do this on an annual basis any more. We know how good they are. We have a rested David Price -- we feel really good about that. And we'll see what happens. Let's just go play another game of baseball."
Tampa Bay won its 91st game of the season Sunday, experiencing its sixth consecutive winning season en route to Monday's fork in the road.
"It's wonderful," Maddon said. "I love it. We all love it here. To be in this position again. Another 90-win season for the Rays is extraordinary. To have walked home tonight would have been really disappointing. I know this is not necessarily the playoffs yet, but it really reeks of that regarding our preparation and how we feel."
Sunday's win capped a furious finish that saw the Rays go 13-5 to put them in their current position. The hot streak was reminiscent of those put together by past Rays playoff teams. In 2011, the Rays went 14-7 in their final games, and they went 9-5 in 2008; the team went just 7-7 at the end of 2010, but they won the division. And last season, Tampa Bay finished at 12-2 to barely finish out of the running.
The Rays' previous two trips to the postseason in 2010 and '11 resulted in losses to the Rangers in the AL Division Series.
"We've not fared well against them in the past," Maddon said. "We have to do better. ... I want to believe that after winning a game like we did today -- that you really have to win -- that we're going to be a little bit more relaxed tomorrow. I believe it will be a relaxed, effort-filled game. That's what I'm looking for. And I think David's the right guy to kick it off for us."
Evan Longoria believes Texas is the right opponent for the Rays at this juncture.
"Although we'd like to be home and in the playoffs, this might be where we need to be, that we need to prove to ourselves in order to get to the next step," Longoria said. "... I guess, to me, it seems pretty fitting. We've obviously gone head to head with these guys in the playoffs the last couple of times we've been in the playoffs. It just seems like if there was a road that we had to travel down, this would be the one."
Price agreed that it would be good for the team to advance through Texas.
"That would definitely make it a little more sweat for us, to do it against those guys," Price said. "I know we're a very confident group right now, and so are they. I'm pretty sure that they swept the Angels this weekend, so they're definitely feeling very good about themselves right now. But so are we. Both of us are in a position to win one more game to advance into the playoffs, and it's huge."
The Rays' experienced an up-and-down season. They rode a seven-game winning streak into the weekend series against the Blue Jays before dropping the first two games. Had the Rays won one of those games, they would be tied with the Indians and headed for the AL Wild Card Game in Cleveland with no need for a tiebreaker. If Tampa Bay had swept the series, it would have finished as the top team in the Wild Card race and therefore would have played the Wild Card Game at Tropicana Field.
"Obviously, we had our opportunities," Longoria said. "But at the same time, we have to be happy that we're playing another game. We get to play one more game than everybody else, and hopefully more. We feel like, at least I do, that we have something to prove there -- that we have unfinished business at that ballpark.
"... I know that everybody in this clubhouse is hungry. Everybody in this clubhouse is excited. And I think we go in there with the best possible spirits and ready to put together nine innings of good baseball."