ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays had been there far too often this season, down and just about out. They were heading toward an efficient victory then heading to extra innings then heading toward another disheartening loss.
Then something that hadn’t been seen at all this season happened Thursday at Tropicana Field.
The Rays rallied in their last at-bat and won.
Team Walk-Off finally walked one off this season when Sean Rodriguez capped a four-run, 11th inning rally with a three-run homer down the left field line.
It was Rays 5, A’s 2.
“Beautiful,” said Alex Cobb, who returned from the disabled list and pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings. “I wouldn’t say it would have been the end of the world if we lost that one, but morale would have been a little bit lower. A huge win for us, for Roddy to go off in that fashion and deliver, that was a big boost that is very welcomed in this clubhouse.”
The Rays snapped their four-game losing streak and won for only the second time in their last 11 home games. They enjoyed their first lead in five games when Yunel Escobar singled home Desmond Jennings in the seventh inning to give the Rays a 1-0 lead against A’s pitcher Sonny Gray.
Yes, Grant Balfour blew the save when he allowed a ninth-inning run, and yes, Josh Lueke gave up a run in the 11th, but the Rays came back.
“That’s this team. A lot of resilience here,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t start to dig a hole and say, all right, let’s bury ourselves. We know eventually something is going to click, hopefully sooner or later so we’re not clawing and scratching late in September like we have in the past.”
Evan Longoria, who had three hits in last 33 at-bats, singled to start the 11th inning. James Loney kept the rally alive with a two-out single. Jennings singled home Longoria and Rodriguez followed with his team-leading fifth home run when he jumped on a hanging slider on a 2-2 pitch from Dan Otero.
“Everybody in this clubhouse is grinding away, trying to do their part and it worked, finally,” Longoria said. “We haven’t made anything easy for us as of late other than Cobb going out there and making it look easy for seven innings. But I think that is a win, right there, that hopefully can propel us. Being down late and then being able to respond the way that we did and finally get a big right there, kudos to Roddy, that’s a great at-bat.”
Cobb, pitching for the first time since April 12 when he strained his left oblique, allowed just three hits, walked two and struck out six. He extended his scoreless streak this season to 21 2/3 innings and set a franchise single season record with his third straight scoreless outing.
“I felt good,” Cobb said. “Mentally, I didn’t feel like I was on the DL all that long. I don’t know what to attribute that to, whether I was just running my mechanics constantly through my mind or what it might have been. Once I started getting back on the mound, it really never felt like it left me.”
Manager Joe Maddon talked before the game about that seminal moment that will change the Rays fortunes. He thought the 2-1 win at Seattle when they rallied in the ninth against former closer Fernando Rodney would be the turning point. He thought last Friday’s 3-0 win at Anaheim when Balfour pitched a perfect ninth one night after letting a win slip away would be the turning point.
Maddon is hoping Thursday’s game will finally do the trick.
“I want to believe so,” he said. “We’ve been looking for this. ... It’s so close, and the boulder has to be pushed back in the other direction and I want to believe we’ll get a bump from this game.”