The Rays entered the weekend with a magic number of two, which translated to any combination of a Tampa Bay win or a Texas loss meant they would be locked and loaded for the postseason. Instead, they've gotten ambushed north of the border, losing the first two games of their series with Toronto, while the Rangers have taken care of business to pull into a tie for a Wild Card spot.
If the Rays win what could be a make-or-break game on Sunday in Toronto against the Blue Jays, they can't yet be eliminated from postseason contention. A three-way AL Wild Card tie at the end of play on Sunday would require two tiebreaker games, the first of which would take place between the Rays and Indians in Cleveland on Monday. The loser of that game would head to Arlington to play the Rangers on Tuesday to determine who would oppose Monday's winner in Wednesday's AL Wild Card Game. If the Rangers and Indians lose on Sunday and the Rays win, finishing the day in a tie with Cleveland, no tiebreaker would be necessary; Tampa Bay would host Cleveland for the Wild Card Game. If all three contenders play to the same result on Sunday, the Rays and Rangers would play a one-game tiebreaker in Arlington, based on Texas' four wins in the seven-game season series between the two clubs.
"Why not?" said Rays manager Joe Maddon when a reporter pointed out that the Rays' fate will be determined on the regular season's final day. "We've been here before. We've been in these moments. We never do things seemingly easily. So let's just play tomorrow and see what happens."
The Rays traveled to Toronto riding high after a four-game sweep of the Orioles at Tropicana Field followed by a three-game sweep of the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
"I'm just surprised," Maddon said. "I'm never disappointed in our guys. More surprised based on how well we've been doing. [Saturday's starter J.A.] Happ pitched well, and we've faced two good pitchers the past two days. [Friday night's starter R.A.] Dickey's not bad, he won the Cy Young last year. And Happ really threw the ball well today. So from that respect, we have faced good pitching. You have to give them credit for that, too. But I'm never disappointed in our guys."
The Rays jumped on top, 1-0, in the first.
Ben Zobrist, who went 3-for-3 Friday night, doubled off Happ to lead off Saturday's game. After moving to third on Sean Rodriguez's flyout to right, Zobrist scored when Wil Myers hit a ball through the left side that was deflected by third baseman Brett Lawrie.
Chris Archer started for the Rays and posted two scoreless innings before Jose Reyes and Lawrie greeted him with back-to-back singles to start the third. Adam Lind then singled to right to drive home Reyes and tie the game at 1. After Archer struck out Moises Sierra, Maddon went to the mound to give the rookie right-hander an early hook.
"I was surprised," Archer said. "I felt like I went deep into some counts early in the game, which got my pitch count up. But I didn't feel like my back was against the wall or anything. And I did the best I could with the amount of time that I was out there."
Alex Torres entered the game and got the final two outs of the inning to escape the jam.
"I just thought that Archie was struggling a bit, I didn't see a comfortable moment there and they had all those lefties coming up," said Maddon, explaining why he lifted Archer after 64 pitches. "And I liked Alex there."
But Torres' success gave way to trouble in the fourth, when Ryan Langerhans singled to open the inning and one out later Kevin Pillar followed suit. Rodriguez made a nice over-the-shoulder catch in left of a Reyes drive for the second out before Jamey Wright took over for Torres.
Wright walked Lawrie to load the bases. Lind shot a two-run single down the third-base line to put the Blue Jays up, 3-1.
Ryan Goins added a two-run homer in the fifth to chase Wright, but things didn't get much better for the Rays as Brandon Gomes surrendered a two-run homer to Pillar for a 7-1 Blue Jays lead.
"Bad day today," Wright said. "I didn't feel good out there when I wasn't throwing strikes. Wasn't throwing pitches where I wanted. Behind in the count. You know, bad things happen when you get behind in the count. I've been pretty good about it lately. Today was not a good day."
Happ allowed one run on five hits in 7 1/3 innings to claim his fifth win of the season, and against the team the was pitching against earlier in the season when he got hit in the head by a line drive at Tropicana Field.
"That's big for him, it has been a long, tough year for him after getting hit in the head, hurting his knee," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "But he needed that. There were some outings since he came back where he was struggling, but I think he has looked really, really good the last three starts. That's big for him. We needed it today in a big game against a very good lineup."
Maddon put Saturday's loss into perspective.
"Listen, we've just come off this wonderful run and all of a sudden we've had two very difficult games," Maddon said. "I think a lot of it's been based on their pitching. We just have not been able to break through on their pitching."
Maddon is never one to hype any single game on the Rays' schedule. Sunday's 162nd game of the season is different, though, as Maddon acknowledged the obvious.
"Tomorrow's a relatively big game, yeah," said Maddon with a smile.