They are at least trying to make a last stand. Shaky legs, but they remain on their feet.
Still standing, as Steve Souza was after he crashed home plate to score on a sacrifice fly Monday. Awkward, head clunk with catcher, neck pain after, not pretty, but standing.
The most important series of this Rays season, as announced by starting pitcher Alex Cobb, began with a win for the playoff longshots, a 11-4 pummeling of the Twins at the Trop before an embarrassingly intimate crowd of 12,108. But they made the noise of 14,208. Their team was full of life, too.
The Rays are now within three games of Minnesota for the second wild card. It’s still a pipe dream, an illusion. They’re a game under. 500. Not the stuff of parade routes. The wild-card race is that pathetic. The Rays can never sustain. It’s who they are. And there are five teams bobbing ahead of them in the water behind the Twins. It feels like the Lightning chasing and missing the playoffs last season. Too many moving pieces, too many teams in the way. And the Lightning had a better chance.
But the Rays had to win Monday. They won. They have to win again tonight and again on Wednesday. Simple as that.
They finished their nine-game road trip with two cruddy losses to the White Sox. Monday dawned and it seemed humorous: The Twins, who were sellers at the trade deadline, were four games ahead of the Rays, who were buyers. How does that work, exactly?
Here’s how it worked Monday: country bear baseball jamboree.
Kevin Kiermaier had three hits and two RBIs. Evan Longoria had three RBIs. Corey Dickerson had a home, two doubles and two RBIs. Logan Morrison hit his 36th home run.
Also for the first time since June 23, the Rays produced an inning where they scored four runs without needing a homer – and they had two of them in three innings.
Cobb only pitched into the sixth inning, but he allowed just one run to start the biggest series of the season. He still has some bulldog left. It will be missed when he leaves after this season.
Perhaps the best news: No structural damage to Chris Archer’s pitching arm.
There has already been plenty of damage to this season, which remains propped up only by an underwhelming American League.
There is plenty of time for an autopsy when the Rays come up short. The odds are against them. That 2-8 stretch that began in early August at home and ended with the Rays scoring 12 runs in 10 games. I’d dust that for fingerprints when this is over. There are a lot of suspects.
“I get caught up into that,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said before Monday’s game. “I don’t know what good it does. Because we are where we are. We can dwell on what’s taken place, you can pick a loss out, a series out that you think really affected the situation. But at the end of the day, our record is what it is. We’ve got to turn it around.”
Or, as Steve Souza Jr. said, really:
“We dug our own grave and now we have to sleep in it,” Souza said.
Forget it. He’s rolling.
I love Big Souz.
“Now we have to win games,” Souza said.
Maybe this is another false start of something. The Rays have had too many of those. Minnesota has 25 games left. The Rays have 23. If the Twins went 13-12 the rest of the way, the Rays would have to go 15-8 just to tie. If the Twins went 15-10, the Rays would have to go 17-6. And there are all those other teams.
This seems eerily like last Lightning season, when the Bolts chased a playoff spot but could never run it down. They never did make it.
Then there is the fact that the Rays finish the season with six against the Red Sox, six against the Yankees and seven against the Baltimore Beckhams. Oh, and Joe Ma visits with the defending world champion Cubs.
“It’s a no-joke schedule,” Cash said.
The key is not to go quietly.
“We need to prove to ourselves more than anything that we’re going to be aggressive going forward,” Cobb said. “If we’re going to get beat, we’re going to get beat with our best.”
The Rays were loud and clear Monday.
And perhaps they can draw some inspiration from the Twins, who lost 103 games last season and who turned seller at the trade deadline after a slump. But they’ve gone 21-13 since then.
After the Twins moved All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler after dealing starting pitcher Jaime Garcia, Minnesota manager Paul Molitor, inspired by a Bruce Springsteen song, scribbled “No retreat, no surrender” on a clubhouse board.
Cash has produced no such slogans, but he had some fun after asking before Monday’s game how many games his team needed to win down the stretch. Answer: 24.
“We need to win 24 of them. We win 24, we’ll get in. I guarantee it.”