ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Ninth-inning tension was brushed away by a surprising bat, the Tampa Bay Rays’ longest losing streak in two years drowned in the emotion shown between first and second bases. There, teammates bounced around previously unheralded outfielder Jason Bourgeois, marking the end of their six-game slide.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said it best, while lounging in his office after a satisfying 5-4 victory over the Mariners on Wednesday at Tropicana Field that was clinched on Bourgeois’ single to right field with the bases loaded: It is always almost never simple when things become a little awkward.
Sometimes, it takes an awkward game, with an unsuspecting star, to become refocused.
“That’s awesome, man,” Bourgeois said of the postgame celebration, which occurred after his first hit as a Rays player. “These guys know how to do it. … It was a moment I’ll never forget, I’ll tell you that.”
Nothing more needs to be told. So many dominoes had to fall for this moment to occur: Desmond Jennings being placed on the 15-day disabled list Aug. 6 (retroactive to Aug. 4) with a fractured left middle finger; the Rays selecting Bourgeois’ contract from Triple-A Durham on Aug. 6; Bourgeois being picked to pinch run for James Loney in the eighth inning Wednesday with Tampa Bay trailing 4-3; a ninth-inning flurry against Seattle closer Danny Farquhar, which included a Ben Zobrist triple, a Matt Joyce single, an Evan Longoria double and a Wil Myers intentional walk.
There are sequences in baseball that tickle the imagination, and this was one of those. Bourgeois, 31, has spent parts of six seasons in the majors, but before Wednesday, he had only one other game-ending hit. The other occurred on April 30, 2011, a single to left field against the Milwaukee Brewers’ Kameron Loe at Minute Maid Park.
He learned this: Game-ending fame, Rays style, is much more memorable. Bourgeois smiled as he recalled the reaction to his first game-ending hit with the Astros: “We went there and showered up and went home.”
This was much different, to put it tamely: Lights blinded him in the charged clubhouse, and there was yelling, pointing, noise everywhere, to complement a night to remember.
“It felt great,” said Bourgeois, who was 0 for 5 with the Rays before his ninth-inning at-bat. “I didn’t know if I was going to have a chance to come up in that situation. … We battled tonight, from (David) Price’s standpoint to up at the plate. I’m happy to be a part of it.”
The larger picture: The losing streak, which had been Tampa Bay’s longest since dropping their first six of the 2011 season, is history. The Rays improved to 3-40 this season when trailing after eight innings, and the Mariners fell to 49-5 when leading after eight. Tampa Bay stands three games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, each victory key as the rivals appear primed to compete late in the regular season’s final months.
“Our team winning is the biggest thing now,” said Price, who allowed four runs and five hits in seven innings. “To come from behind like that against Farquhar, after he slammed the door on us yesterday, that’s huge. Our offense hasn’t given up all year long.”
And before a dramatic moment, Maddon refused to give up on Bourgeois. Shortly before the player approached the plate, Maddon spoke to Bourgeois in the dugout and checked to make sure he was prepared.
“Do you know all the signs?” Maddon recalled saying.
“Beautiful moment,” Maddon said later in his office, the losing streak part of the past.