Rays hang on to wild-card lead with win
Loney's pinch-hit home run powers sweep
The Tampa Bay Rays could return to Tropicana Field to host a wild-card game, or play in a Division Series. Or to clean out their lockers for the offseason.
Whatever the outcome, they sent themselves off into the final crucial six road games of the season with a flourish on Monday. Pinch-hitter James Loney led off the ninth inning with a game-ending home run against Tommy Hunter as the Rays swept a four-game series from the reeling and suddenly battered Baltimore Orioles, 5-4.
"It feels pretty good to win a game like that, at the end of the season at home," Loney said.
The Rays finish the regular season with three games each at the Yankees and Blue Jays.
Tampa Bay (87-69) held onto the top wild-card spot in the American League by claiming its ninth win in 12 games as a raucous crowd of 17,830 celebrated Loney's 13th homer of the season and 13th Rays walk-off win of the season. The Rays remain one game ahead of the idle Cleveland Indians in the wild-card hunt.
Baltimore (81-75) fell 5 1/2 games behind the Rays and five back of Cleveland for the second wild-card spot.
"We're getting to that point where you can feel it," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of his team anticipating comebacks. "You can feel with this group that they believe."
Joel Peralta (3-8) earned the win in one inning of relief as Hunter fell to 6-5 in the 12th walk-off loss of the season for Baltimore.
The loss was costly in multiple ways for the Orioles. All-Star third baseman Manny Machado appeared to suffer a left knee injury stepping awkwardly on first base running out a ground ball in the seventh inning. Machado's knee appeared to buckle inward and he went immediately to the dirt. He was removed from the field on a stretcher. Manager Buck Showalter said test results were not immediately available after the game.
Tampa Bay tied the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh when Wil Myers snapped an 0-for-18 Rays slide with the bases loaded by singling to right off reliever Darren O'Day to score two runs. Orioles second baseman Alexi Casilla momentarily made a diving catch of the ball but lost control when his head collided with the thigh of on-rushing right fielder Nick Markakis.
Jose Lobaton, on with a lead-off walk, and Ben Zobrist, who had singled, scored on the play. Myers finished 2-for-4.
Baltimore lost a prime scoring opportunity to start the eighth when Zobrist was able to chase down Matt Wieters' shot off the wall in left and fired a one-hop strike from the bullpen to catch Wieters trying to stretch a double into a triple.
"We started off real good on the road trip and then ran into some problems here," Showalter said. "Most of that's got to do with Tampa. They played really well. It's frustrating because our guys really left it out on the field."
Zobrist, a second baseman who occasionally plays in right field, had thrown out Casilla at home to end the seventh with the help of a block and delayed tag from catcher Jose Molina. Zobrist was playing out of position because of an injury to center fielder Desmond Jennings.
"Ben Zobrist's play in left field won today's game. Period," Maddon said.
Tampa Bay jumped to a 1-0 lead in the second inning when rookie Tim Beckham knocked in his first big-league run with a sacrifice fly.
Baltimore, the major league club best in home runs, had been kept inside the ballpark for the entire series until the fourth, when AL leader Chris Davis mashed a two-run shot to center. His 52nd of the season scored Machado, who had led off with a single.
Markakis added a two-out single off Rays starter Chris Archer and scored for a 3-1 lead on an RBI single by J.J. Hardy.
Tampa Bay trimmed the deficit to one run in the bottom of the fourth on a two-out RBI double by Jose Molina that scored Beckham, who had singled.
The Orioles increased the lead to 4-2 in the top of the fifth when Brian Roberts tucked his sixth home run of the season inside the right-field foul pole.
Archer was charged with four earned runs on five hits and two walks in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out seven.
For Baltimore, Wei-Yin Chen allowed two runs on six hits and two walks in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out four.
NOTES: Showalter said there was no word on Machado because "somehow they couldn't get the film developed here in Tampa." He rebuked what he considered an expected negative outcome and said "I think he'll play again for the Baltimore Orioles at a very high level." ... Showalter said he learned "after the fact" that Casilla "got a pretty good blow to the head" in the seventh-inning collision. He was to undergo at CAT scan. ... Maddon said he expected CF Jennings to return before the end of the regular season because of what the team is describing as a mild left hamstring strain. He will be evaluated daily, but treated with caution considering speed is such a major component of his game. Jennings was injured running out a bunt single on Sunday. ... Rays RH Alex Cobb was named American League Player of the Week after going 2-0 in two starts with a 1.65 ERA. ... Entering play on Monday, the Orioles were 65-54 when hitting a home run and 16-20 when not. ... The Rays employed a different looking lineup for the finale of the series with rookie 2B Beckham earning his first major league start and Delmon Young at DH. ... Tampa Bay reinstated RH Jesse Crain from the 60-day disabled list. ... The Rays finished the regular season with 1,510,300 in attendance, the lowest figure since 2007.