LOS ANGELES — If the Rays end up making it into the playoffs, there are several games that will be considered key checkpoints on their path.
Add Wednesday’s 8-7 11-inning win over the Dodgers to that list.
Maybe right at the top.
Two outs from a third straight loss and a fifth in seven games that would have dropped them out of the AL wild card pairing, the Rays rallied in the ninth off star closer Kenley Jansen to tie the NL best Dodgers, and then stuck again in the 11th to beat them.
“That was a huge, huge comeback,'' closer Emilio Pagan said. "To come that close to a pretty sour taste in your mouth for the road trip especially with how we played so good at home coming into the road trip, that would have been frustrating for sure. ... This speaks to the character of the people in this clubhouse and in this organization, that we’re going to play to the last out regardless of who’s in the other dugout.''
"It was a big win,'' said outfielder Austin Meadows. "It was definitely up there as one of the top ones of the year.''
"Definitely,'' Pagan said. "Just because of where we are in the season and where the standings are.''
Maybe the top, (Heck, radio broadcaster Andy Freed tweeted that it was their biggest win since 2013, when they last made the playoffs).
The win improved the Rays to 90-63 with nine games to play, and most importantly, kept them a half-game ahead of the Indians for the second wild-card spot. They also stayed two games behind the wild-card leading A’s. Both the A’s and Indians won earlier Wednesday on walkoffs, which added to the importance of the win.
Also, as a side benefit, the Rays also spoiled a party in New York. The Yankees, after losing earlier Wednesday, stuck around their clubhouse to celebrate clinching the AL East title, which they still would have done with a Rays loss, so now they have to wait at least another day. That’s the same AL East title the Rays eyed through mid-June when they last led the Yankees.
"It’s big,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "We needed to find a way, we did. It’s going to go down to the wire but it’s nice when the other two teams you’re competing with, they win, it’s really nice when we win.''
There was so much that went into it. So many of the 25 Rays used played key roles as they grabbed an early lead in what turned out to be a tense, back-and-forth, 4 1/2 hour game. They gave up the early advantage, took the lead again in the sixth and lost it again, then rallied to tie in the ninth and win it in the 11th.
"We have a lot of guys that played big roles offensively, some clutch hits,'' Cash said.
Meadows was the headliner, delivering the go-ahead run off Josh Sborz leading off the 11th with his 32nd and potentially most significant homer of the season. The solo shot extended his career-best hitting streak to 16.
"Probably top one,'' Meadows said. "It was up there. I was waiting for the slider or curveball, whatever it was, and he threw it to me. 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.”
Tommy Pham is up there, too. He capped a career-high and team-record tying five-hit night by providing a necessary cushion in what turned out to be an eventful bottom of the 11th. Pham’s fifth hit was a double after Meadows’ home run. He went to third on a groundout and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ji-Man Choi to give the Rays a two-run lead.
Pham’s performance backed his statement following Tuesday’s loss that his mates needed to play with a sense of urgency, to “focus on the right now” given the rarity of being in a postseason chase.
“We had a ton of fight today,'' Pham said. "I think everyone saw (that).”
Once the Rays took the 8-6 lead in the 11th, they put in the hands of rookie reliever Pete Fairbanks, one of the conspirators in their Tuesday loss.
Fairbanks got it done, but not without even more drama. He allowed a one-out single, then rightfielder Avisail Garcia botched a fly ball near the foul line. With two outs, Fairbanks gave up a single to Edwin Rios that made it 8-7, but he struck out Russell Martin to end it.
“You always want to get back out there, especially as a reliever after sucking,'' Fairbanks said. "Just speaks to them having faith in me and me going out there and doing what I’m supposed to do to reward that and believe in my stuff and what I bring to the table and being able to deliver for my teammates.”
There was also redemption for rookie reliever Colin Poche, who also had a hand in Tuesday’s loss, as he worked a relatively easy 10th.
The ninth-inning tying rally off Jansen started when Pham singled and stole second, then Matt Duffy walked. Ji-Man Choi, after taking a close two-strike pitch, delivered a huge hit, scoring Pham and sending pinch-runner Johnny Davis, who showed his speed in a bit of a risky move, to third. Trvais D’Arnaud stepped up and delivered, as he has so many times this season, with a sac fly that easily scored Davis.
“We’ve been resilient all year really,'' Meadows said. "We just have that don’t quit mentality. Credit to all the offense tonight and the pitching as well and being able to close the door with Fairbanks.''
The early innings were eventful too.
After the Rays grabbed a 1-0 lead, rookie starter Brendan McKay gave it back in a rough second inning, allowing a leadoff double, a walk then a two-run double to Max Muncy. The Dodgers made it 3-1 when Meadows made the decision to catch Will Smith’s foul fly ball without being positioned to make a strong throw home, and Muncy tagged up.
The Rays came back in the fifth, Pham delivering a two-run game-tying double on what he insisted was a record night based on “luck” as much as anything. And they went ahead in the sixth, with Jesus Aguilar delivering a pinch-hit single to score Willy Adames, who doubled as part of another impressive all-around game.
But the Dodgers took it right back. Two singles and a stolen base off Chaz Roe set them up, and they got some help from the Rays, passive and aggressive. They tied it when Joc Pederson rolled through a single off Nick Anderson through the shortstop spot left vacant by the shift. Then they went ahead when Anderson and d’Arnaud got crossed up on their signs and a fastball d’Arnaud wasn’t expecting bounced off his arm and rolled far enough away for Chris Taylor to score the go-ahead run.
Cody Bellinger added a homer off Pagan in the eighth to make it 6-4, but the Rays still had more work to do.
I guess what it showed is that we’ve stayed consistent for a lot of this year,'' Cash said. "They’ve found a way. ... We’ve made some games interesting, we’ve come up really close and short.
"But they seem like they’re always ready to play. They don’t get frustrated in the moment. They understand the task at hand.
"And, again, they kind of rose up to it.''
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.