ST. PETERSBURG — Of all the qualities that define this Rays team, one that stands out the most might be resiliency.
The way the players have handled a series of unfortunate events, from a long list of injures, to a handful of crushing defeats, to mistakes and misplays that flipped scores against them.
But time after time, they have bounced back.
And Friday, as they opened the final homestand and nine-game stretch of the season in a tense battle for an AL wild-card spot, they did just that.
By the end of the long night, they had beaten the Red Sox, 5-4 in 11 innings, Willy Adames delivering a single that scored pinch-runner Johnny Davis for their sixth walkoff in their last 19 home games and eighth of the season.
That kept Rays tied for the second wild card at 91-63 with the Indians, who beat the Phillies 5-2, and also eliminated the Red Sox, who didn’t do much for an encore after their 2018 World Series championship. The wild-card leading A’s (93-61) beat Texas to maintain a two-game lead for the top spot.
(And, if you believe in this kind of thing, the Rays did all this on the 11th anniversary of them clinching their first playoff spot, Evan Longoria’s catch of that foul ball still seared in many memories.)
"They know what’s at stake,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "Our only choice right now is to find a way to come back and win the game.''
Making it more meaningful, they did so after two of the pitchers who have contributed the most this season, top starter Charlie Morton and closer Emilio Pagan, let them down.
"With Charlie and with Emilio, they’ve picked us up so much this year, specifically those two guys, for the team to bounce back was pretty big,'' Cash said.
"We had to,'' Adames said. "They’ve been solid all year. We have to pick them up. They are probably the best two guys on the team we have pitching-wise. We have to pick them up. That’s why we’re a good team, we pick up each other.''
The first time the Rays came back was in the seventh.
Morton, who has been so solid all year, faltered. He said enough to convince manager Kevin Cash, who always takes out the pitcher when he goes to the mound, to leave him in a scoreless game in the seventh after allowing a one-out double on his 100th pitch Then three pitches later gave up a two-run homer to Mitch Moreland on an 0-2 curveball Morton didn’t think was so bad.
The other Rays instead picked him up, coming right back to take a 3-2 lead. It helped that the Sox pulled Rick Porcello, who came up with one of his best starts in a bad year, holding Tampa Bay to a mere three hits.
"Gritty teams do that – teams that fall behind and they fight back to tie the game or take the lead,'' Morton said. "It’s really important, it’s really telling. The teams put in positions like that in a deficit and come back to tie or take the lead, that’s a big deal. That’s a really big deal.”
Travis d’Arnaud, who has more big hits than any Ray, started the rally with a one-out single. Lefty Darwinzon Hernandez then walked Jesus Aguilar — pinch-hitting for struggling Kevin Kiermaier — and Mike Brosseau, who was batting because Avisail Garcia left the game after feeling dizzy.
The Sox switched to righty Marcus Walden. Cash went to the bench again, hitting Nate Lowe for Matt Duffy. Lowe got one run in, hitting a slow bouncer to the left side and beating the throw to foil the inning-ending double play.
That paid off when Adames delivered his first huge hit, driving a ball to right that scored the tying run.
If there was ever a moment for Kevin Cash to show his faith in a pitcher, this was it. If there was ever a #Rays pitcher who was worthy of a manager’s trust, Charlie Morton is the guy. https://t.co/iEnMY6W8lT @romano_tbtimes #RaysUp #RedSox #WildCard #ALWildCard #RallyTogether— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) September 21, 2019
The Rays got a bad bounce when Adames’ ball hopped over the short fence in the corner for a ground-rule double, forcing Lowe to stop at third.
But then they got a good bounce when reliever Josh Taylor’s 1-2 pitch skidded away from catcher Christian Vazquez, allowing Lowe to score the go-ahead run.
The Rays added a huge run in the eighth when Austin Meadows led off with a walk and Ji-Man Choi doubled him in and went to the ninth with an 4-2 lead.
They gave the ball as you’d expect to Pagan, who started the year at Triple-A but emerged as their closer, and had converted 14 of his last 15 save opportunities and posted scoreless outings in seven of his last eight.
But he failed them this time as well, allowing a two-run homer on a two-strike pitch to, guess who, Moreland.
It wasn’t all Pagan’s fault, anyway, as Brosseau, the rookie infielder playing rightfield in place of Garcia, was unable to make the play on a high fly by Gorkys Hernandez that hit off the corner wall and caromed away for a triple.
Cash said he heard it “might have have been a homer” (which would have been more interesting had the Red Sox thought so) and “it was not a play we expect Mike to make” based on his inexperience. The Rays had limited other options at that point, either just-called-up rookie Johnny Davis or infielder Kean Wong.
Brosseau thought he might have had a shot, but "maybe, potentially take a better route and get to the wall a little bit earlier.''
It didn’t matter, as Moreland turned on a 1-2 elevated fastball that Pagan said was “a pretty good pitch” and hit it over the leftfield fence to make it 4-4.
No problem, again.
Two-out walks by Brosseau and Daniel Robertson, to cap an impressive eight-pitch at-bat off Trevor Kelley, set up Adames’ game winner before an announced 17,117 at Tropicana Field.
"Coming back speaks to the character of the guys in the room and the talent we have one through 40,'' Pagan said. "We’re a great organization and a really good team. I was excited to see the guy who was going to win it. Tonight, it was Willy. Tomorrow, it might be somebody else. Just sitting there excited to see how it was going to end.''
Adames welcomed the chance to deliver the third walkoff hit of his young career.
"Willy will be the first to tell you he wants to be up in that spot,'' Cash said. "That’s what starts it, a player that wants to be there with the pressure and all that stuff. And then through multiple times you come up in those clutch situations you just build more and more confidence.''
Adames shared the credit.
“The guys were pretty patient at the plate, taking all those pitches,'' he said. "That was good for me because I was able to see what kind of pitches they had, and in that situation what they were throwing. They took great at-bats to put me in that spot. Just happy that we got the win and we keep doing it. ...
"The guys were pretty passionate tonight. Fought hard the whole night. Never gave up. It was that kind of game. We have so much fight on this team.''
The win was the second straight dramatic one for the Rays, who came back in the ninth Wednesday against Dodgers All-Star closer Kanley Jansen to tie and won it in the 11th.
"It feels like the playoffs right now,'' Adames said. "Everybody’s competing. We all know that we have to win, that we have to put the best that we’ve got on the field and try to take advantage of everything we can.''
“We’re learning a lot about ourselves as we go,” Cash said. “We want to continue being resilient because that’s what it’s going to take to see this thing through.”
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.