MINNEAPOLIS — It had to be the night on the last road trip when Matt Moore returned from the disabled list and held a potent Angels lineup to an unearned run in nearly six innings. That’s when the fortunes of a suddenly floundering Rays team turned for the better, right?
And then the next night, when Jeremy Hellickson returned from his brief exile and did the same thing to the same lineup, that’s when you knew the Rays were finished messing around and were ready to rejoin the ranks of the playoff contenders, right?
The Rays lost the next night and the next night and the next night.
Then how about the Sunday in Seattle when James Loney doubled in the tying run in the eighth inning and Sean Rodriguez, he of the huge base running blunder two nights earlier, singled home a pair of runs in a much-needed, trip-ending victory?
That was the turning point, right?
The Rays dropped the next two to the AL East-leading Red Sox, the second in mind-numbing fashion when Roberto Hernandez allowed a 10th-inning pinch-hit grand slam.
You can put a finger on when the Rays’ troubles began. It was when Alfonso Soriano easily stole third base in the 11th inning of the Yankees’ win at Tropicana Field on Aug. 25 because no one was paying attention.
The Rays led the Red Sox by percentage points atop the AL East standings heading into that game.
Beginning with that loss, the Rays dropped 13 of their next 19 games heading into Saturday night’s game with the Twins at Target Field.
But, alas, the Rays headed into Saturday night’s game on a two-game winning streak.
And those looking for the moment when the fog began to lift are pointing to the eighth-inning double by Wil Myers on Thursday night that landed just a hair inside the right-field foul line and drove in the go-ahead run in the win against Boston.
“One at-bat can change the course of your momentum,” outfielder Kelly Johnson said.
But, as Ben Zobrist said, only if the Rays build on it.
“We have to start putting wins together,” Zobrist said before Chris Archer and the bullpen shut out the Twins on Friday night.
The Rays thought they had turned things around after Moore and Hellickson shut down the Angels in Anaheim. They thought they were on their way back after Loney and Rodriguez took care of the Mariners in Seattle.
Maybe it will be the double by Myers that stands as the very moment when the breaks that went against the Rays flipped in their favor.
“It sounds like a pity party to say it like that, whining about balls getting hit hard at guys or balls just falling short or guys just making diving plays against us, sounds like we’re making excuses, but that’s the way the baseball season goes,” pitcher Alex Cobb said.
“Things come in bunches, and I think we were waiting for a breakthrough, and I think that turning point that people keep talking about might have happened when Wil’s ball was fair and not an inch foul.”
The Rays have to take it day by day, “Godspell,” as manager Joe Maddon calls it.
They have to worry about themselves and not the Yankees and the rest of the teams chasing them for a wild-card spot. They have to “Be present,” as the slogan on the T-shirts handed out Friday by Maddon reads, and, as it says on the back of the shirts, “Fuhgeddaboudit,” when it comes to everything else.
“I don’t know if there’s a certain recipe on how to break out of it,” Johnson said. “But every day really is new, and I think all those clichés really play in baseball, because they really are true.”
Cobb said the team has been trying to create that moment when everything would start coming up Rays, trying to make the breaks instead of waiting for something good to happen.
“We haven’t collapsed,” he said.
“We’ve been pushing the envelope, forcing that hand to turn over and get us going in the right direction. Joe said it well, when teams do just quit they’re not playing in October. We never quit It might have looked like we were quitting by losing all those games, but that wasn’t the feel in the clubhouse. It’s just hard to find silver linings every night.”