ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays entered Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Monday in an 0-2 hole against the Astros. The pressure was high, the heat was on and all the chips were on the table. But Tampa Bay wasn't sweating it, eventually forcing a Game 4
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays entered Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Monday in an 0-2 hole against the Astros. The pressure was high, the heat was on and all the chips were on the table. But Tampa Bay wasn't sweating it, eventually forcing a Game 4 with a convincing 10-3 win.
The Rays have essentially been fighting their way out of a corner since early September. No postseason berth was assumed -- especially in the ultra-competitive AL East -- and Tampa Bay was forced to fend off rallies from the Indians, A’s and Twins in order to claim a spot in the AL Wild Card Game, in which they headed west and topped Oakland for the right to face Houston.
With their backs against the wall down the stretch in crucial situations, the Rays had no shortage of magic up their sleeves. Tampa Bay ended the regular season having won eight straight extra-innings games and finished 11-4 in its last 15 contests that went longer than nine innings.
“There’s no denying what we’ve done this year in situations where we found ourselves behind late in the game,” Game 3 starter Charlie Morton said. “Or, you know, we went on a streak where we just couldn’t win, and we rattled off a bunch of wins.
“There’s fight in this team. There’s a lot of fight in this team.”
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Monday marked yet another win-or-go-home scenario for Tampa Bay, which has more experience in these situations than most, boasting a lineup that is well-stocked with bats that have continued to find the ball in crucial, sometimes improbable moments all season. Here are three who could be the difference if the Rays are going to complete a comeback in the ALDS:
This one is a given. Meadows led Tampa Bay in many offensive categories during the regular season, including RBIs (89), home runs (33), runs scored (83), batting average (.291) and slugging percentage (.558). The All-Star outfielder also leads the team in go-ahead RBIs (23) and two-out RBIs (35) and has slugged five game-tying RBIs.
Meadows earned the AL Player of the Month Award for a September that included a career-high 16-game hitting streak, during which he hit .407 with 19 RBIs, a game-tying, two-run homer on Sept. 10 against the Rangers and a go-ahead solo shot in the 11th against the Dodgers on Sept. 18.
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Meadows’ lone hit in nine career at-bats against Astros Game 3 starter Zack Greinke was a solo home run. It may not seem like much, but a single home run in either Game 1 or 2 could have made a big difference. He didn't add to his hit total against Greinke in Game 3, striking out twice against him, but once the veteran righty exited in the fourth, Meadows hit a two-run double off Wade Miley as part of the Rays' four-run inning.
d’Arnaud was acquired from the Dodgers on May 11, and he finished second on the team in go-ahead RBIs (21) and two-out RBIs (33), trailing Meadows in both.
The catcher’s crucial knocks are plentiful, including a two-homer game against Detroit on June 6 and a walk-off home run against the Yankees on July 6. The most memorable, no doubt, was his three-dinger day at Yankee Stadium on July 15, the last of which represented the go-ahead, three-run shot in the ninth inning.
Cash was asked if he could imagine being in the ALDS without guys like d’Arnaud to stoke the fire, and the Rays’ manager didn’t hesitate.
“I can’t,” he said. “You can say that about a lot of the guys on the team. We get there a different way. We’ve got to lean on the full roster. Travis is right at the top of the list since we've acquired him, what he's done behind the plate, and certainly while he's got a bat in his hand.”
d’Arnaud slashed .348/.389/.641 with seven home runs and 54 RBIs with runners in scoring position after joining the Rays, with a batting average in those situations that was good for fourth best in the AL and highest on the Rays since Carl Crawford hit .359 in 2010.
d’Arnaud is also 3-for-7 in his career against Greinke, with a home run and three RBIs. He didn't do any damage against Greinke in Game 3 but the Rays' final run of the day came off his bat, a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh.
Pham laid out the model for consistency early in the season, reaching base safely in his first 16 games to extend his on-base streak to a club-record 48 games. He added a two-homer game April 10 vs. the White Sox and a two-out, walk-off single in the 10th inning against the Orioles on Sept. 2, and on Sept. 18, he became the first visiting player to have a five-hit game at Dodger Stadium.
More importantly, Pham has continued to plug away at the plate in the postseason with a .375 average and a trio of singles in the ALDS after going deep in the Wild Card win. In Game 3, he hit an RBI single to extend the Rays' lead to 8-1 in the fourth inning.
“He's a big part [of our success]; there's no doubt,” Cash said. “Tommy is a really good hitter. He had a big home run, two hits in the Wild Card Game -- a big home run. [I have] plenty of confidence that Tommy and the rest of the guys can turn some things around here fairly quickly.”
Dawn Klemish is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Tampa. Follow her on Twitter @Sportsgal25.