David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.
As slogans go, "Stay Solvent" isn't going to wind up on any player T-shirts or billboards outside Tropicana Field. The cover of a financial self-help book maybe, but a rallying cry? It's kind of a dud.
Which is why it was so funny last night to hear Joe Maddon use those words to describe the Rays' never-say-die effort in a 5-4 comeback win over the Red Sox in ALDS Game 3. When Jose Lobaton created an instant classic with his walk-off blast in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Rays avoided elimination for the fourth time in nine days -- against four different teams.
"What an interesting, wonderful game to stay solvent with," Maddon said.
That businesslike approach appears to be working. The Blue Jays couldn't finish the Rays on the final day of the regular season at Rogers Centre. The Rangers failed at home in the Game 163 tiebreaker. The Indians became a wild-card casualty at Progressive Field.
Each of those games was special, but none could match Monday night for drama.
Sweep? Really? Can't let that happen. So Evan Longoria delivered the tying three-run homer in the fifth inning, clobbering the same Clay Buchholz changeup that caught him looking in the fourth.
Longoria could be seen yelling at himself on the way back to the dugout after that at-bat. He had all of Tropicana Field screaming after the next swing.
"We all understand that we have our backs against the wall," Longoria said. "And it seems like those moments have been fueling us. These are the games that we've really played well in. Although you'd like to be on the other side, maybe we need that right now."
One thing's for sure. When the Rays absolutely, positively need a win, they're getting it -- and in novel ways. They got a little lucky in the eighth inning when three defensive miscues -- not errors -- helped them take a 4-3 lead. The Red Sox didn't cover first base on Desmond Jennings' bunt, an overaggressive Dustin Pedroia inadvertently blocked Stephen Drew on a ground ball up the middle and Mike Napoli couldn't get the ball out of his glove for a play at the plate.
It's not as though the Red Sox screwed up, necessarily. Just that the Rays sneaked through the opening they needed. Even when Fernando Rodney allowed the tying run in the ninth, Maddon dialed up his ice-cream junkie Lobaton, who did what no one is supposed to do against Boston's unbeatable closer, Koji Uehara.
Uehara had not given up a home run in his final 37 appearances of the regular season, a stretch of 40 1/3 innings. The last time it happened was June 30, when Jose Bautista took him deep. So up came Lobaton, who was told by bench coach Dave Martinez to scoot up in the box a bit to maybe help with handling the splitter.
Lobaton followed those instructions, then took a first-pitch fastball for a strike. The next pitch was a splitter, and Lobaton launched it into the Trop's "Touch Tank," only the third player to reach it after Miguel Cabrera and Luis Gonzalez and the first Ray to do so.
"I hear the knock," Maddon said, "and all of a sudden, I look up and the ball is going toward the tank. Nobody hits home runs there. Nobody does. Look at the probability of it, against that pitcher. If you're going to bet some bucks on that, you're going to lose."
But the Rays keep defying the odds. For now, they still have to get by Boston, and all this win did was guarantee them one more game. If it rattled the Red Sox, all the better.
"I'm sure there's an attitude they have nothing to lose," Red Sox manager John Farrell said, "and let it all hang out."
Just stay solvent, baby.