ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays believe. They believe in themselves. They believe in each other. They believe trailing by two runs with two outs in the seventh inning is not as daunting as it was, say, three weeks ago.
They believe this season-ending six-game road trip that begins Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium is the road that will take them to the postseason.
Most of all, the Rays believe Monday's 5-4 win against the Baltimore Orioles in their final regular-season home game was not their last game this autumn inside Tropicana Field.
“Absolutely, we'll be playing here again this year,” manager Joe Maddon said.
“I hope so,” third baseman Evan Longoria said. “I really believe the way that we've been playing right now it is highly likely. We've got great momentum. The spirits in here are high. I don't see us going on the road and not playing up to the capabilities that we have.”
The Rays closed the home schedule in dramatic fashion with a pinch-hit home run from James Loney to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning. It was the 13th walk-off win this season for the Rays, tying the record set in 2011. It was the third on the homestand and the second in the four-game series with the Orioles.
The Rays swept the Orioles and now lead the Cleveland Indians by one game in the wild-card standings.
Monday's game was, as Maddon said, “an interesting game.”
Home runs by Chris Davis and Brian Roberts helped the Orioles build a 4-2 lead through five innings.
Rays starter Chris Archer wasn't on top of his game, and Maddon didn't wait long before turning to his relievers.
Six of them — Wes Wright, Brandon Gomes, Alex Torres, Jake McGee, Jamey Wright and Joel Peralta — held the Orioles scoreless over the final 4 1/2 innings.
That left it up the offense, and the bats did enough for the win.
The first big hit belonged to right fielder Wil Myers, who, batting with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning, lifted a fly ball to shallow right that second baseman Alexi Casilla caught as he dived for the ball. But Casilla slammed to the turf as his head slammed into the thigh of right fielder Nick Markakis and the ball fell out of his glove.
Jose Lobaton and Ben Zobrist scored to tie the score at 4.
It was the type of break that eluded the Rays for much of the season.
“We can back track all the moments that have not worked out for us this year, too,” Maddon said.
The reason the Rays were in position to tie the score was because of Zobrist. Playing left field for only the second time this season, Zobrist ended the seventh by throwing Casilla out at the plate.
Zobrist made another big defensive play in the eighth when he threw out Matt Wieters, who was trying to extend his leadoff double into a triple.
“Zo's defense won (Monday's) game, period,” Maddon said.
All that was left was for Loney to hit the Rays' first pinch-hit homer of the year.
“That's definitely the way our team is riding right now. We just feel good,” Zobrist said. “We feel like we're going to win games like that.”
Maddon talked afterward about the vibe in the dugout that has morphed from thinking they can win to expecting it. Maddon said it's the same vibe he felt with the 2008, 2010 and 2011 playoff teams.
“It's really taken shape,” Maddon said. “It's been kind of like hovering. It's kind of like this uncertain great vibe, and now it's like a certain vibe. It's great. Our guys believe right now.”
The Rays have six games to play. They lead a three-team chase for the two wild-card spots by a game. They know this week won't be easy.
“This was definitely a huge, huge series for us,” Zobrist said. “But we got six games to go and they're just as big.”
And they believe they will play more games at the Trop this fall, be it the wild-card game or the American League Division Series — or both.
“We will. We're going to go for it,” catcher Jose Molina said. “I know the guys are really happy and they want to do, they want to come back here and play here. It's going to be fun this week to see what's going to happen.”