With backs against wall, Rays in familiar place
Tampa Bay aims to draw on three straight elimination wins prior to ALDS
ST. PETERSBURG -- Back to one and done.
After Boston dismantled Tampa Bay at Fenway Park over the weekend, the Rays once again find themselves in the familiar situation of not knowing if they will clean out their lockers after Monday's Game 3 of the best-of-five American League Division Series (Monday at 6 p.m. ET on TBS) or if they will survive to play a Game 4 on Tuesday at Tropicana Field.
In the plus column, the Rays know the feeling, since they recently faced elimination games in Toronto, Texas and Cleveland prior to playing Game 1 of the ALDS in Boston.
"We've been playing Game 7s before [going to Boston] for the last three games," David Price said. "Our last game in Toronto was a Game 7. Our game in Texas was a Game 7. Our game in Cleveland was a Game 7. So this is nothing that we're not used to."
Nevertheless, the Rays' position is hardly enviable.
"Come on," Rays catcher Jose Molina said. "Who the heck wants to be in our position?"
Added Evan Longoria: "It's not good, to say the least. ... Just have to continue to stay positive and go one game at a time."
"One game at a time" has begun to sound like a mantra for the Rays, a team that gets things done, but always seems to take the most difficult route.
At the beginning of September, they looked like a lock for the one of the AL Wild Card spots. Then came a West Coast road trip, a cold spell, and voila, they were right in the middle of a race to the finish.
But the team can draw strength from how it has performed with its backs to the wall. The Rays managed to play their way into the playoffs -- certainly nobody can accuse them of backing in -- and they have advanced, avoiding elimination to this point.
"It's not going to be easy," Joel Peralta said. "It's a great team on the other side. The way we've done it the past week was win one more game, then try and win the next one and the next one."
How have the Rays managed to successfully navigate the "backs-to-the-wall" waters to date?
"It's just the mentality of all the guys," Chris Archer said. "We each have our individual thoughts, but we have one common goal. And that's to do whatever it takes to win. So if I have to come in and get a few hitters out from the bullpen, I'm fine with that. If this person has to come in and pinch-hit against this lefty or righty or whatever, we're completely comfortable with our roles. Like we don't try to do anything more than what we're asked to do. So it's easy."
Archer believes that an "all-for-one" mentality comes into play here.
"It's cliche, but it's true," Archer said.
And the rookie right-hander believes the Rays are absolutely capable of handling another "backs-to-the-wall" situation.
"Look at what this team's been through," Archer said. "The super-long game [18 innings] against the Orioles, extra innings versus Texas, going to two other teams' house and knocking them out. I mean, we're prepared and equipped for whatever's thrown at us."
Fellow rookie Wil Myers also believes the Rays have what it takes to reverse their fortunes.
"I feel like we've been through these kinds of situations all year," Myers said. "Just the fact that our team has been able to bounce back and win three games in a row that we had to win is huge for a team like us. We've been in this situation three other times, and we won three games in a row. We're looking forward to it, and we know what we have to do."
So the question begs to be asked: Are the Rays somehow better with their backs to the wall?
"I think so," Sam Fuld said. "Certainly the underdog mentality is what we're used to. It was a little bit strange a month ago, being ahead in the Wild Card. Being pursued instead of vice-versa, because I just think we're accustomed to being underdogs and we seem to thrive in that role."
Tampa Bay trailed, 0-2, in the 2010 ALDS against the Rangers before losing in Game 5. Twenty-two times in ALDS history a team has gone up 2-0, and only four times has the trailing team come from behind to win the series. The Rays are trying to become the first to complete this type of comeback since the 2003 Red Sox (against Oakland). Despite the odds being stacked against his team, Price remains confident of the Rays' chances.
"I have the utmost confidence in our team," Price said. "We're not down. We know we have those 25 guys in our locker room that are ready to go. We're not worried about anything else, and we're going to try to bring it back to Boston."
Rays manager Joe Maddon allowed that much of the problem doesn't deal with his team as much as the team they are playing.
"A big part of the problem is the Red Sox," Maddon said. "They're playing at a really high level. ... They're good. They're real good. They've been good all season. So that part really presents a little bit more of a concern, or a problem. I do believe, if we can, we need to get off to a good start, get on top, stay on top, that kind of stuff.
"To try to come back from behind that group or permit them to snowball would be very difficult. Tomorrow, if we can get out on top and stay on top, I think that's really important for winning these next two games."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.