LOS ANGELES -- After Tuesday’s loss to the Dodgers, Rays outfielder Tommy Pham talked about the sense of urgency the group needed to have with just under ten games left in the regular season.
“We’ve got to win,” Pham said. “We’ve got to play that right now is important. You never know when you’re in this situation again.”
The Rays were staring at another gut-wrenching loss, but a ninth-inning rally and an Austin Meadows solo home run in the 11th inning propelled Tampa Bay to a much-needed 8-7 win over the Dodgers on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.
“It’s big,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “We were playing on the West Coast so you recognize that Oakland had a day game and we saw that they walked off Kansas City and Cleveland, obviously watching that, it looked like it walked off Detroit. So we needed to find a way, [and] we did. It's going to go down to the wire but it's nice when the other two teams you're competing with win, it's really nice when we win.”
It was a game full of ups and downs for the Rays, but it was a taste of the intensity the last nine games of the season will require in order for Tampa Bay to make the playoffs. Fortunately for the Rays, they were able to hold off constant pressure from the Dodgers to earn a series split.
After erasing an early two-run deficit and taking a one-run lead on a Jesús Aguilar RBI single in the sixth inning, Tampa Bay saw the bullpen struggle, allowing two runs in the sixth to put the Dodgers ahead, 5-4.
But with the Rays staring at a third consecutive defeat and the potential of falling behind the Indians by a half-game in the American League Wild Card standings, Tampa Bay rallied against Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen.
Pham, who urged his teammates to play with a sense of urgency, certainly played his role, recording a career-high five hits Wednesday, including a key hit in the ninth. Despite the Rays going into the ninth trailing by two runs, Tampa Bay never seemed to panic in a tough situation and environment.
Pham and Matt Duffy started the rally for Tampa Bay with a single and a walk off Jansen, which set the stage for Ji-Man Choi, who has been one of the hottest hitters in the lineup over the last two weeks.
Choi, who appeared to get a break earlier in the at-bat on a borderline pitch that could have been called strike three, delivered with a big RBI single against Jansen to cut the deficit to 6-5. Johnny Davis, who was called up last week due to his speed, flashed his ability, taking third on the single. Travis d'Arnaud rewarded Davis for taking the extra base, coming through with a sacrifice fly to even the score.
“Kind of when [Emilio Pagán] gave up that run [in the eighth inning], he came back in the dugout and said, ‘If you can give me two [runs], I’ll go back out there and do my thing,’” Pham said. “It just shows you what kind of team we have here. Right there for him to say I made a mistake, but pick me up guys and I’ll do my part after.”
With the game tied, Pagán, Colin Poche and Peter Fairbanks were able to hold off the Dodgers offense just enough over the last three innings of the game, allowing Meadows to deliver his team-leading 32nd home run of the season, a solo homer off Josh Sborz in the 11th inning. Choi added an important insurance run for Tampa Bay with a sacrifice fly that scored Pham.
“I was waiting for the slider or curveball, whatever it was, and he threw it to me,” Meadows said. “It was a pretty good pitch, but I figured he would come with it and I was able to get it out of the park. I kind of knew when I hit it and that was pretty exciting.”
When asked where that home run ranked for Meadows, the Rays All-Star put it right at the top.
“Probably top one,” Meadows said, with a smile. “It was up there.”
The win itself was one of the most important ones of the season for Tampa Bay. The Rays held on to the half-game lead over the Indians, who beat the Tigers, 2-1, in extra innings Wednesday, for the second AL Wild Card spot with nine games remaining. Tampa Bay also stayed just two games behind the A’s, who also won Wednesday, for the top Wild Card spot.
Aside from the playoff ramifications, it gave the Rays a confidence boost against one of the top teams in the Majors. If the Rays are able to make the playoffs this season, this could be one of the more defining wins of the season. Now the attention shifts to a six-game homestand against the Red Sox and Yankees.
“Just shows that we can compete with those guys and we can compete with anybody out there,” Meadows said. “We’re going to continue to prove that and go into the homestand with some motivation and get some wins.”