TORONTO - The ball settled into the glove of David DeJesus in left field, and the Tampa Bay Rays newbie, who has never played in the postseason (or even on a winning team) during his major league career, pumped his fist in the air after recording the last out.
Fernando Rodney finally put a stop to the Toronto Blue Jays' comeback and the Rays held on for a 7-6 victory Sunday at the Rogers Centre.
Hello, Game 163.
And hello, Texas Rangers, the Rays' opponent tonight (8:07 p.m., TBS) in Arlington, Texas, in a one-game tiebreaker to decide who travels to Cleveland on Wednesday night to play the Indians in the American League wild-card game.
“To me it seems pretty fitting,” Evan Longoria said about the matchup with the Rangers. “We've obviously gone head-to-head with these guys in the playoffs the last couple of times we've been in the playoffs. It just seems like if there was a road that we had to travel down, this would be the one.”
The Rangers beat the Rays in the 2010 and 2011 AL Division Series, winning the deciding game both years at Tropicana Field.
Longoria twice said Sunday he thinks the Rays have unfinished business in Texas they need to take care of.
“I just want to reiterate the fact that we have something to prove in Texas,” he said. “We've left that place too many times with our head down and disappointed. I feel like now is the time to be able to turn that page, and I think that if we do in fact win (tonight) it will be a tremendous boost, a huge moment for us moving forward throughout the playoffs.”
David Price will face Rangers left-hander Martin Perez, who was 10-5 in 19 starts this season.
The Rays set their rotation weeks ago so Matt Moore would pitch Sunday and Price would pitch the first postseason game.
“I know this is not necessarily the playoffs yet,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “But it really reeks of that, regarding our preparation and how we feel based on the emotions of the last two weeks.”
The reason Price's start won't come in the official postseason is because the Rays couldn't hold on to their lead in the wild-card race when they reached Toronto, and because the Indians closed the season with 10 straight wins to overtake the Rays.
Still, Price views tonight's game as if he will be pitching in a Game 7.
“This is the moment I want to be in,” he said.
The Rays left Toronto on Sunday, after watching the Rangers beat the Los Angeles Angels, looking at what could be instead what could have been.
“We all love it, to be able to be put in this position again,” Maddon said. “Another 90-win season for the Rays is extraordinary. To have walked home (Sunday night) would have been really disappointing.”
The Rays, who lost the first two games of the series, scored six runs in the first inning, added another in the fourth and seemed to be cruising to an easy win when the Jays scored three times in the sixth inning against starter Moore.
The Jays continued the rally in the seventh and eighth innings against Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Rodney, making for some anxious moments for the Rays and their followers.
“Nothing ever comes easily for us here,” Maddon said.
Maddon, who was ejected in the seventh inning after questioning umpire Paul Schrieber's interpretation of the strike zone, said he paced the clubhouse during the last two innings until the ninth, when Rodney stranded the tying run at first base.
“It was not easy,” Maddon said. “I had different spots I was stopping in to get outs. One of them was the urinal, so actually it worked really well.”
The Jays have given the Rays trouble in Toronto this season, especially back in May when they roughed up the bullpen.
“They play us tough,” Longoria said. “Regardless, we won the game. That's the bottom line. It doesn't matter. The game's over and we can smile about it now, happy to be done with them for this year.”
Now, on to Texas and a winner-take-all play-in game with the Rangers, who have also given the Rays fits this year.
The Rangers won two of three at Rangers Ballpark during the Rays' first road series of the season, then split four with the Rays during their last homestand. Tonight's game will be played in Texas because the Rangers won the season series.
“I think Texas, although we'd love to be at home and in the playoffs, it might be where we need to be,” Longoria said. “It might be something that we need to prove to ourselves in order to get to the next step.”
The Rangers won the final seven games of the season to remain alive.
The Rays took a seven-game winning streak to Toronto before ending the free-fall with Sunday's win and extending their season at least through tonight.
“It's wonderful to be playing another day based on what had happened over the last couple of days, so I'm happy with that,” Maddon said. “We just got done playing Texas. It seems we do this on an annual basis. We know how good they are. We have a rested David Price, we feel really good about that, and we'll see what happens. Let's just go play another game of baseball.”.