The Rays wouldn’t be in tonight’s American League wild-card game without their ability to deliver in the clutch. This season, the Rays had 13 walk-off victories — tying their club record from 2011.
It happened early (Matt Joyce’s ninth-inning home run produced the season’s first victory, an 8-7 decision against the Baltimore Orioles).
It happened late (David DeJesus ended the longest game in franchise history, beating the Orioles with an 18th-inning single, and it was followed three days later by James Loney’s ninth-inning homer, clinching a pivotal four-game sweep of Baltimore).
It happened a lot.
“If we could always be that group, play nine innings hard every night and fight until the final out, I hope our culture could be defined in that way,’’ Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Magic must be earned. It’s not given.
“It’s not just a given. It’s not something you can rub on you. It’s something you feel. When one guys feels it, everyone feels it. When things go badly in a game, it’s a lot easier to shrug it off and move to the next moment. You always believe good things will happen for you. Hopefully, that’s where we are.’’
It began to crystallize Sept. 20 at Tropicana Field, when the Rays played deep into Friday night, then well into Saturday morning before DeJesus produced the 18th-inning game-winner. It was another walk-off win, but a special one.
“After the 18-inning affair, you could sense it was a moment that could really help you turn it around,’’ Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. “No telling what happens if you don’t come out on the winning end of that game.
“We’ve had so many big moments from so many different guys. To be a team that wants to be there on the last day of the season, to be a playoff team, you must have that. And we’ve had it. It’s such a huge momentum-builder.’’
For Longoria and Ben Zobrist, the late-inning comebacks were reminiscent of the Rays’ breakout season in 2008.
“When you’re tied, going into the bottom of the ninth, you feel like, ‘We’ve pulled this out a whole bunch of times, so why not one more?’
“I think in 2008, there was a feeling like, ‘When is this going to end?’ It was such an unbelievable ride. This season, I think it has been building. We feel like we should have more wins. But we’re definitely getting a foothold.’’
As Maddon said, it’s something you feel.
“Let’s face it, it’s a long road to get to where you want to get in baseball,’’ Loney said. “The beauty of the walk-off is getting so many different people involved, like we had all season. It’s such a cool feeling, like being a kid again.’’
“It’s about being consistent, relaxed, not afraid, all those qualities that mean so much in our game,’’ Rays pitcher Chris Archer said. “When we’re down, we’re not afraid. We’ve done this so many times before. That’s kind of who we are.’’
Rays’ walk-off victories in 2013
Date Result Walk-Off Batter
April 3 Rays 8, Orioles 7 Matt Joyce (homer)
Manager Joe Maddon says: “Well, that was a really nice way to get our first win of the year. I enjoyed it.”
May 9 Rays 5, Blue Jays 4 (10) Luke Scott (walk)
Maddon says: “We’ll take it. It was fantastic how Luke was able to hold up right there.”
May 11 Rays 8, Padres 7 Evan Longoria (homer)
Maddon says: “We were fortunate to have Longo in the right spot, but I’m not happy we gave away the lead.”
May 29 Rays 7, Marlins 6 D. Jennings (single)
Maddon says: “It’s so much fun to watch right now. I was confident we were going to come back.”
June 29 Rays 4, Tigers 3 (10) Yunel Escobar (single)
Maddon says: “This is the game we’ve talked about that we have to start winning.”
July 10 Rays 4, Twins 3 (13) Ben Zobrist (single)
Maddon says: “There’s residual energy from this game. It doesn’t mean you win tomorrow, but it’s easier to walk in the door.”
Aug. 3 Rays 2, Giants 1 (10) Wil Myers (single)
Maddon says: “Wil does not lack for confidence. He really wanted to be in that moment.”
Aug. 14 Rays 5, Mariners 4 J. Bourgeois (single)
Maddon says: “It’s almost never easy. When things are awkward, it takes an awkward game to win.”
Aug. 16 Rays 5, Blue Jays 4 Jose Lobaton (triple)
Maddon says: “When was the last time you heard of a catcher hitting a walk-off triple?”
Aug. 18 Rays 2, Blue Jays 1 (10) Jose Lobaton (homer)
Maddon says: “I told our clubhouse manager to have a vat of ice cream on the plane for Lobaton. He earned it.”
Sept. 18 Rays 4, Rangers 3 (12) D. Jennings (single)
Maddon says: “I want to believe this game gives us some kind of impetus moving forward.”
Sept. 20 Rays 5, Orioles 4 (18) David DeJesus (single)
Maddon says: “To win that game means a lot based on the time of year that it is.”
Sept. 23 Rays 5, Orioles 4 James Loney (homer)
Maddon says: “You can feel it. You can’t necessarily describe it, but it’s there, that vibe.”