Rays show life while forcing Game 4
ARLINGTON -- They didn't want it to end.
"Nobody wanted to go home," Rays center fielder B.J. Upton said softly, measuring his words. "There's a lot going on, and this group has been together a number of years. It's one of the things we talked about. There are going to be some changes around here next season, and we didn't want to go out yet."
Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford came face to face with what could have been the end of the road in their Tampa Bay careers on Saturday. They decided, along with Upton and John Jaso and Matt Garza and all the rest, that they were not ready to get swept into winter by the Texas Rangers.
Pena slashed a game-tying single in the eighth inning, and Jaso knocked him in with the go-ahead run. Crawford, having made two sprawling catches in left field, launched one in the ninth and Pena followed with a matching blast, giving closer Rafael Soriano -- another Ray on the precipice -- some creature comfort.
When Soriano, an imminent free agent along with Crawford and Pena, shut it down in the bottom of the ninth after a solo homer by Nelson Cruz, the Rays had extended their season for at least another day with a 6-3 triumph in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
"It almost feels like we're winning the series now," Crawford said, expressing how one October game can dramatically shift the emotional tide.
Game 4 is a High Noon shootout, Texas time. Suddenly, the Rangers, who had seemed in control, have to be feeling some heat.
Tommy Hunter takes the ball for Texas and Wade Davis for Tampa Bay. The Rays can send it back to Florida for a Game 5 Tuesday, a rematch of aces Cliff Lee and David Price. Lee claimed the opener from Price.
"We are definitely going to come out and play our style, [be] aggressive, try to tie things back up," Crawford said. "We definitely feel good about ourselves right now."
This is a major mood swing. After scoring one run in 18 innings at home, the Rays got together upon arrival in Texas and had a little soul session.
"We had a meeting [Friday]," said Upton, whose RBI double in the sixth inning against Alexi Ogando got the Tampa Bay offense off the mat. "Carl had some things to say. He's laid-back, not a fiery guy. He just talked about how the pressure's not on us, that we need to just go out and play our game."
This was the same message manager Joe Maddon had delivered, stressing how there was no need to run through walls and try to hit balls 500 feet. Raw emotion might carry you in football, but this sport is about timing, finesse, self-control, a quiet inner confidence.
The Rays did precisely as Maddon had calmly requested in the hours before Game 3. They didn't get all lathered up. They performed the way they had all season, with composure and discipline, and it paid off.
"We're here to lean on each other, fight for each other," said Garza, who kept his team in the game for six strong innings. "Why not get five runs in the last two innings? We're notorious for that."
Texas starter Colby Lewis appeared to have premium stuff, but unlike moundmates Lee and C.J. Wilson in Florida, the big right-hander was not precise with his command. The Rays waited him out, worked counts, took walks -- five of them -- and Lewis was gone after one hitter in the sixth.
Getting into the Rangers' bullpen isn't always such a good idea, but it was this time. Dan Johnson singled against Derek Holland, Pena walked, and in came Ogando with his 97-99-mph gas.
Upton, whose performance this season has not matched his talent level, showed up when the Rays needed him most. Using his remarkable bat speed to time a 97-mph Ogando fastball, Upton lashed it to left field to bring his team even at 2, driving home Johnson.
"We were thinking, 'Something's got to break; something's got to give -- we're going to get that clutch hit,'" said Garza. "We knew something had to go our way. When B.J. got that hit, it was big. It was like, finally, we got something to fall. We'd been hitting balls hard, but [Josh] Hamilton was catching everything."
As great as he is, Hamilton is human. He couldn't do much with Jaso's single to center on an offspeed pitch by Neftali Feliz, and he certainly couldn't do anything to prevent the drives by Crawford and Pena from reaching the seats.
"What can you say about Carl?" said Garza. "He's done it day in and day out. And Carlos, even though he's had a down year offensively, defensively he's irreplaceable.
"Let's throw it on their back and let them carry us for a while."
After Ian Kinsler had Texans dancing in the aisles with his solo homer in the seventh against Garza for a 2-1 lead, the Rangers were within six outs of their first AL Championship Series.
This was when Pena and Crawford -- the veterans who have done so much to lift this franchise -- did some heavy lifting along with Johnson and Jaso.
Facing veteran southpaw Darren Oliver after Johnson's one-out double, Pena turned on a two-strike fastball and slammed it to right. His single cashed in pinch-runner Desmond Jennings with the tying run. When Jaso delivered Pena at the expense of Feliz, the lights-out closer, the Rays were in front for the first time in the series.
"Oliver has been outstanding during the regular season and throughout his career," Pena said. "He has pitched for a long time, and he has done an unbelievable job. But you get to experience those moments where maybe your back is against the wall and everything seems to be going against you, and all the odds are against you, and you make this pause and all of a sudden you are able to focus on the task at hand. And I think the ballclub was able to do that today.
"When we do that, stay in the present, that is extremely powerful -- because your talent can express itself freely, and obviously that's exactly what happened today. Here we are, living our dreams. We don't want to ever forget that."
After Crawford opened the ninth with a homer to right-center, Pena followed with a two-run shot to the same general location.
An offense that had slept in St. Petersburg was wide awake now, and this ALDS felt entirely different.
"It's like Joe always tells us," Upton said. "We want to play the last game in November. That's our goal."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.