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Rays 5, Yankees 3

Triple play helps Rays do their part

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 28, 2011

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It was when the ball arrived at first base, just ahead of the diving Russell Martin, that the Rays really began to feel like a team that was supposed to make the postseason. Sure, they were still down by a run in the sixth inning. Sure, the Red Sox were winning in Baltimore.

But Martin, the man who had professed his hatred for the Sox last week, had hit into a 5-4-3 triple play.

“I think that really turned the momentum,’’ Tampa Bay’s Matt Joyce said. “With the bases loaded and you’re down a run, you’re not really sure what’s going to happen. You’re kind of in that ‘Uh-oh’ situation. There’s nobody out, and you’ve got a good hitter coming up.

“Right there, that just changed everything.’’

And one inning later Joyce was circling the bases after hitting a three-run homer to right off Rafael Soriano, putting the Rays on top. They had made good on the opportunity provided by the triple play, giving the too-small-for-the-circumstances crowd of 22,820 a reason to cheer, a reason to clang their cowbells.

Tampa Bay had the lead, 5-3, which was how it would finish. With that win, and the Red Sox’ win, the American League wild-card race will come down to the final game of the season, a game Tampa has left to the capable arm of David Price - or to game No. 163.

It was all because of a guy who was limping around the clubhouse earlier, his right foot wrapped to ease the pain. It was of Joyce that manager Joe Maddon had said earlier, “You just take enough aspirin, ibuprofen. Should be fine.’’

He was still limping after the game, though it’s likely the foot stung just a little bit less with the home run and the win and the playoffs still a possibility.

It was the triple play, the third in Rays history, that seemed to wrap everything up for Tampa, that seemed to indicate that something special was going on. After a Nick Swisher double scored Alex Rodriguez to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead, the Rays intentionally walked Jorge Posada to load the bases for Martin, hoping that they could get a double play, willing to concede the run. They got more than that.

As Maddon joked, “I said, ‘Let’s load ’em up to get a triple play right here.’ How do you even envision a triple play?’’

But they got it.

“I was trying to get down the line as fast as I could, just not fast enough,’’ said Martin, who had put the Yankees on the board with a solo homer in the third inning. “It [stunk]. As soon as I hit it, I just put my head down. I knew it was happening.’’

“It was pretty animated when everybody came inside,’’ Maddon said. “Any possible handshake that they had, they took out of their back pocket and utilized it at that moment.’’

The Rays had known this series wasn’t going to be easy, that the Yankees weren’t planning on giving them the games. New York manager Joe Girardi wanted to get his primary bullpen arms some work. So Tampa Bay had to win the game against Soriano and David Robertson and Mariano Rivera and a lineup almost completely filled with starters.

And, still, the Rays did it.

They had come into the day in an unfamiliar position, tied with the Red Sox for the wild card. They left it the same way, still in control of their destiny, still able to win themselves into October.

They began well last night, with a two-run homer from Ben Zobrist in the second, before going down, 3-2. Then came the triple play, the homer, and the win.

Should the Rays win tonight and the Sox lose, the Rays could be popping champagne in their home clubhouse having earned a playoff spot that was nearly unthinkable a month ago.

“I hope so,’’ Maddon said. “That would be outstanding. I’m a good partier.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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