Originally posted on FOX Sports  |  Last updated 9/13/12
The Rays had to win Thursday. B.J. Upton said so. Matt Joyce said so. The standings said so. Another loss to Baltimore and they would drop four games back in the American League East with 19 to play -- perilous territory, even for a team that seems to invent a new bank-shot route to the postseason every year. Well ... they lost. Sorry. The Rays escaped a bases-loaded, no-out calamity in the 13th inning -- the five-man infield never fails -- before falling 3-2 in the 14th, as the Orioles completed a three-game sweep. (From Baltimore's perspective, Thursday at 5:52 p.m. ET will be remembered as the time when every phone with a 410 or 443 area code texted, 'MANNY MACHADOOOOO!!!!!'). If it was any consolation to the Rays, those 5 hours and 14 minutes constituted the best baseball game of 2012 -- so far. And that's the thing about the Rays: It was some consolation to them. This loss, as devastating as it may have seemed, won't break them. They aren't resigned to missing the playoffs for only the second time since they loudly announced their arrival to relevance with a pennant in 2008. Even as they showered and dressed in a quiet clubhouse, they seemed ready to open a series against the Yankees on Friday night -- and ready to perpetuate havoc in an AL East race that is miles from over. "I love it," said Joe Maddon, the Rays' optimist-philosopher-manager. "That's the point, man. There's nothing to get upset about. You don't start throwing things. Your guys just played 14 -- what, was it 14? -- hard innings. They were in every moment of the game. We just have been challenged in scoring runs." That much is apparent. The Rays scored only six runs during the Orioles' crucial three-game sweep -- even with an additional five innings to hack Thursday afternoon. They went a combined 3-for-21 with runners in scoring position -- a .143 batting average. The Rays are never going to mash like the Texas Rangers, at least not in the foreseeable future. But they used to win because their infrequent hits came at the right times. That isn't happening as often anymore. One reason: Evan Longoria isn't completely healthy after a season of hamstring injuries, as Maddon acknowledged again Thursday. The Rays lineup stagnates when he fails to drive in runs. At the moment, Longoria has gone five games -- and 20 at-bats -- without an RBI. Another problem: Luke Scott and Carlos Pena were signed to be lineup mainstays, and neither is playing well enough to merit daily at-bats at first base, designated hitter or anywhere else. But as the Boston Red Sox would tell you, the Rays won't concede the AL East race because of their pitching excellence and Maddon's ongoing practicum in meta-baseball. He used 26 players Thursday. Twenty-six . Such a thing isn't even possible until the active roster limit expands in September. Chris Archer, who pitched masterfully for 3 2/3 innings before taking the loss, entered the game as a pinch-hitter when second baseman Ryan Roberts fouled a ball off his ankle in the 11th. And, of course, there was the five-man infield. Archer allowed the first three hitters of the 13th inning to reach base on a walk, his throwing error on a sacrifice bunt, and Mark Reynolds' single. At that moment, it seemed inconceivable the Rays would survive another inning. But that's when Maddon rolled out his plan: infielder Reid Brignac emerged from the dugout to replace Sam Fuld, and five Rays fanned across the dirt. There was such commotion on the field that I expected to hear a substitution buzzer at the scorer's table. But Maddon knew what he was doing. Robert Andino grounded to a perfectly placed Elliot Johnson for the first out. Then Archer fell behind pinch-hitter Matt Wieters 3-0. If any of his next pitches missed by an inch, the game would be over ... but that's not how he saw it. "I'll be honest with you," Archer said. "The atmosphere of the team, the aura of the team, helped me be confident and have no doubt about the outcome. The word 'walk' didn't even cross my mind. I stuck with my game plan. "Carlos Pena and I have had several conversations about finding stillness in a storm, or finding stillness in a pond. I looked over, and he had his arms out, like, 'Find your stillness.' " He found it, apparently. Wieters struck out. The Rays adjusted defensively once more -- Ben Zobrist traded his infielder's glove for an outfielder's mitt -- and Archer fanned Nate McLouth to end the inning. I know: One inning later, the game was over. Machado was the walk-off hero, and the Orioles' record in one-run games reached an improbable 27-7. Baltimore boarded the team charter for a grueling three-city trip -- Oakland, Seattle, Boston -- brimming with confidence, and rightfully so. The Orioles appear destined to make the playoffs. But the Rays are a dangerous team -- to the Orioles, to the Yankees, even to a wild-card contender such as the A's. Particularly if you're a Yankees fan, it's unsettling to know that the Rays were further from the playoffs after the same number of games last season. And we know how that turned out. "We've been in difficult moments in the past," Maddon said. "You've got to give the Orioles credit for the way they're playing right now. They're not giving up, either. But there's time left. They have a tough trip coming up. We've got plenty of games left. We play them three more times at the end of the year. "This can be re-had, in a sense. I cannot be upset with my guys. My guys are great." They just can't hit, that's all. But that's never stopped them before.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Report: Novak Djokovic could miss rest of season with elbow injury

Reggie Jackson praises, urges caution with Aaron Judge

Panthers QB Cam Newton shows up to camp in best shape of career

Yankees progressing on deal to acquire Sonny Gray, Yonder Alonso

Report: Derrick Rose was unwilling to accept bench role with Lakers

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Stephen Strasburg expected to make next start for Nats

John Lackey makes history, hits four batters in one game

Report: Suns G Brandon Knight suffers torn ACL

The Cavaliers have one unhappy star and three options

Garrett walks out on media over Whitehead questions

D-Rose landing in Cleveland could be good for Cavs, himself

The 'Kyrie revolts against the King' quiz

Every MLB team's best and worst deadline trade from the last 25 years

The most memorable moments from the class of 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame inductees

BIG3 Ref Hotline Bling: James White slams the phone down

28 MLB trade deadline deal prospects since 2000 who went on to become All-Stars

Box Score 7/25: The pressure of the trade deadline is here

The 'When George Brett went completely batty' quiz

Finding the possible Achilles' heel for baseball’s best teams

Getaway Day: A pair of aces get lost in the shuffle

Sports & Politics Intersect: Trump casts shadow over U.S. Women's Open

Best of Yardbarker: General managers take the spotlight

The 'Pay that man his money' quiz

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

The 'Kyrie revolts against the King' quiz

BIG3 Ref Hotline Bling: James White slams the phone down

The 'When George Brett went completely batty' quiz

Finding the possible Achilles' heel for baseball’s best teams

Getaway Day: A pair of aces get lost in the shuffle

Sports & Politics Intersect: Trump casts shadow over U.S. Women's Open

The National League Wild Card is suddenly relevant again

The 'Pay that man his money' quiz

BIG3 Week 5: Pivotal make-or-break weekend in Chicago

The 'Let's show a little love for James Jones' quiz

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker