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Rays hold off Blue Jays, end up in AL wild-card tie

ESPN staff
September 30, 2013 « Mancini close to Galatasaray move | Chartbeat test »
Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their victory © AP
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Two familiar play-off foes will play a 163rd game to decide the second AL wild-card berth.

Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays assured themselves a tie for a wild-card berth, scoring six runs in the first inning and then holding off the Toronto Blue Jays 7-6.

They headed for a Monday tie-breaker at the Texas Rangers, who beat the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday to finish 162 games even with the Rays at 91-71. The winner advances to Wednesday's wild-card play-off at Cleveland (92-70), which determines the team opening the division series at Boston two days later.

Texas beat the Rays in the division series in 2010 and 2011.

"We have something to prove in Texas," Longoria said. "We've left that place too many times with our heads down and disappointed. I feel like now is the time to be able to turn that page."

The Rays will give the ball to left-hander David Price (9-8), and Texas starts left-hander Martin Perez (10-5).

Price called it the kind of situation he dreamed about as a little kid.

"Hands down my biggest game of this year, night and day bigger than Opening Day," he said. "This is a moment that I want to be in. I want to be able to relish this moment and go out there and have fun."

Longoria said the Rays are confident knowing they'll play behind the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.

"You can't not feel good about it," Longoria said. "He's the guy that I think everybody in this room looks to when we need somebody to go out and give us a great performance."

Rays manager Joe Maddon was equally confident.

"I love it, I absolutely love it," he said of Price. "I know he's motivated."

Texas will have Nelson Cruz active. The All-Star outfielder on Sunday completed a 50-game suspension from Major League Baseball that followed its investigation of the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic, which was accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs.

Longoria said he wasn't bothered that Cruz is eligible.

"He's served his suspension," Longoria said. "It is what it is. Justice has been served."

Longoria hit an RBI double as the Rays used their highest-scoring first inning since 2010 to go ahead early. Tampa Bay took a 7-0 lead into the sixth before Toronto rallied.

Maddon was ejected in the seventh, and the Blue Jays had the go-ahead run at the plate in the eighth and ninth innings. Fernando Rodney got for four shaky outs for his 37th save in 45 chances.

"I've never been a part of anything like that," Rays rookie outfielder Wil Myers said. "Emotions were going up and down the whole game."

Tampa Bay is familiar with big rallies on the final day. In 2011, the Rays overcome a 7-0 deficit in the eighth and came back to beat the Yankees 8-7 in 12th to clinch a wild-card spot.

This time, the Rays almost let a huge lead slip away.

Maddon acknowledged thinking back to that 2011 game as the Blue Jays closed.

"I did think of that and it was really awkward," Maddon said, "but I thought this is different: We're looking through the windshield and not the rear-view mirror today."

Matt Moore (17-4) won consecutive starts for the first time in more than two months. He allowed three runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings. Moore walked three, all in the first inning, and struck out four.

Blue Jays starter Todd Redmond (4-3) got just two outs. He had won his previous three decisions.

"It was a tough way for him to go out today," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "He's a lot better than that."

The Rays looked to have robbed much of the drama by batting around in the first. Jose Lobaton hit a two-run double and James Loney, Delmon Young and Yunel Escobar had RBI singles.

Tampa Bay made it 7-0 in the fourth when Myers hit an RBI double that eluded left fielder Kevin Pillar.

"We came out ready to play, man," Maddon said. "That was outstanding."

Toronto broke through against Moore in the sixth when Mark DeRosa hit a two-run double. Moore left after Ryan Langerhans singled, and reliever Jake McGee gave up a sacrifice fly to J.P. Arencibia.

The Blue Jays closed to 7-4 in the seventh on Brett Lawrie's double. Joel Peralta replaced McGee and walked Moises Sierra, loading the bases.

Maddon was ejected by plate umpire Paul Schrieber for arguing, but Peralta escaped when pinch-hitter Adam Lind grounded the first pitch into an inning-ending double play, with first baseman Loney making a superb catch on shortstop Escobar's low relay throw.

"He's done it all year," Maddon said. "He's been fabulous."

Peralta ran into trouble again in the eighth, leaving with two outs and runners at first and second. Rodney came on and gave up RBI singles to Jose Reyes and Anthony Gose, shaving Tampa Bay's lead to 7-6. Lawrie walked to load the bases before Rodney struck out Sierra.

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