Manager Joe Maddon and the Tampa Rays have been down this road before. Almost out of the race for a playoff spot, yet fighting to the end.
That approach worked a year ago when the Rays staged a stunning final-game rally to beat the Yankees and win the AL wild card. Now, after downing the fading White Sox on Sunday with David Price getting his 20th win, the Rays still have a chance to make the postseason.
”It’s always about maintaining a slight mathematical chance. We were in the same boat last year. It could become a little bit better with some cooperation, but either way we just have to go home and play our game,” Maddon said Sunday after his team’s 6-2 victory.
Tampa Bay has played its best ball at the right time, winning 10 of 11 to stay in the race for the second wild card.
”That’s 10 out of 11 at this time of the year, under these circumstances where you can’t hiccup. Our guys have been outstanding. Everybody. Pitching, hitting, coaching staff … they’ve all been great,” Maddon said.
And no one is a bigger fan of the second wild card implemented this season than Tampa Bay’s manager. The Rays remained three games behind Oakland for that second wild card.
”I really love the competition. I think it’s great,” Madden said. ”My hat’s off to these other teams, I think it’s great. It’s good for baseball. The two wild card system seems to be working this year. Mission accomplished.”
The Rays go home to play the Orioles, who are tied with the Yankees for the AL East lead. And Oakland is at home against Texas to wrap up the season.
Chicago’s chances are pretty much mission impossible. They White Sox have lost 10 of 12 and fallen three games behind Detroit with three to go. Chicago’s hope: win three straight in Cleveland and root for the Royals to sweep the Tigers in Kansas City, forcing a one-game tiebreaker Thursday.
”We’re up against it now, but we’ll continue to play,” Chicago’s Paul Konerko said. ”That’s what we do and what we’ve done all year. It doesn’t look good obviously. … You never know what can happen. The main thing is to get us in order and go win a ball game tomorrow.”
The White Sox held at least a share of the lead from July 24 until Wednesday and had not been this far back since late May. Their starting pitching has come up short and they have hit .153 (13 for 85) with runners in scoring position during the dozen-game slide.
”We didn’t play good enough. The effort was there. The work was there. Everything was there. We just didn’t get it done,” White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.
Price (20-5) improved to 12-1 with a 2.26 ERA in his last 18 starts, allowing two runs and five hits in seven innings. He became the fourth 20-game winner of the season, joining Washington’s Gio Gonzalez (21-8), the New York Mets’ R.A. Dickey (20-6) and the Los Angeles Angels’ Jered Weaver (20-4).
”We still have a chance to get in with a good series against Baltimore … We need a little help from Texas, but we have to continue to win and hopefully we get back in like last year,” said Price, the first 20-game winner in Tampa Bay history.
Asked who he would vote for if he could cast a ballot for the AL Cy Young, Price wasn’t shy.
”I would vote for myself,” he said.
And Maddon agreed with his ace lefty.
”The 20 wins, he should have like 25 wins,” Maddon said. ”He’s pitched well enough to have mid-20s based on our lack of scoring runs sometimes. The ERA is highly impressive, pitching in this division, this league, the DH. … It all matters. To be able to accomplish that here is quite an accomplishment.”
B.J. Upton his hit his 27th and 28th homers, and Tampa Bay also got a solo shot from Ryan Roberts.
”You know you pretty much have to win them all,” Upton said, sizing up the Rays’ chances.
Chicago starter Jose Quintana (6-6) got in trouble before the game was barely three minutes old, giving up a leadoff triple to Desmond Jennings and Upton’s two-run homer.
Roberts hit a two-out homer in the fourth made it 3-0. The White Sox rallied in the bottom half when Alex Rios delivered an RBI single and Dayan Viciedo hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly.
Upton’s leadoff double in the fifth finished Quintana, who allowed four runs and six hits in four innings. Evan Longoria hit an RBI double and Ben Francisco added a sacrifice fly off reliever Nate Jones to make it 5-2. Upton homered again in the ninth against Addison Reed.
NOTES: Pierzynski had his family at the game. He is eligible for free agency and this might have been his final home game in Chicago. Pierzynski, who came to Chicago in 2005, said he’d love to finish his career with the White Sox but understands that might not happen. He’s had a career-best 27 homers. … Rays C Jose Molina (right quadriceps strain) was out of starting lineup for fifth straight game but caught the bottom of the ninth.