ST. PETERSBURG - The Tampa Bay Rays playoff chances ended early Tuesday morning like many of their scoring chances this season: stranded on base, waiting for someone to drive them home.
In this case, it was the Texas Rangers who could have kept the Rays afloat at least one more day with a win in Oakland against the A's.
Former Ray Grant Balfour struck out the Rangers in order in the ninth inning to preserve a 5-3 victory that sent the A's to the playoffs and will keep the Rays home this October for the first time since 2009.
The Rays beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-3 on Monday night for their 11th win in their last 12 games.
That is the type of streak every team would love regardless of when it occurred, but especially at this point of the season.
A run like that usually puts a team in the postseason.
But all that run did was allow the Rays to play one meaningful game in October, and no more.
“Honestly,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said after the Rays' win. “it just is what it is. We had opportunities early in the year to win more games and we did not. But so does everybody else. Everybody else is going to be bemoaning the same points if they don't get there at this juncture.
"So, for me it's about staying right here, keep the blinders on, move it forward organizationally speaking.”
The Rays scattered after their win, choosing to watch their fate unfold in their homes.
“I'm the biggest Rangers fan on planet Earth right now,” catcher Chris Gimenez said.
That's kind of funny since he grew up in Gilroy, Calif., as an A's fan.
“They're not my favorite team anymore,” Gimenez said. “I can assure you that.”
The Rays can point to many reasons for why the season ends Wednesday night. The injuries are paramount, sure. But when they Rays got healthy again, which is to say when third baseman Evan Longoria rejoined the lineup and the offense came back to life, they rejoined the playoff race. They even led the American League wild card standings by 2 1/2 games on Aug. 26.
The biggest culprit was a 1-5 road trip through Baltimore and New York, one that began with the Rays a game behind the wild card-leading Orioles and two games back of the AL East-leading Yankees.
That slide grew to 1-7 before the Rays ran off a season-high eight straight wins that turned into 11 wins in their last 12 games.
It was a frustrating way to end the playoff push.
“It is, but at the same time we did it to ourselves,” Gimenez said after Monday's game while the Rangers and A's were getting started 3,000 miles away. “It stinks that it had to happen right now, because I do feel like we're playing some of our best ball of the year.
"We're making a push for it. We just need a little bit of help. We got to keep the faith.”
The Rays kept the faith.
They didn't get the help.
Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay Rays win again but knocked out of playoff contention