If it feels as though the Rays are perpetually stuck in life-or-death situations, it’s because they pretty much are.
It’s not just the past two weeks, when they needed to win 10 of 12, including a one-game tie-breaker and a one-game wild-card matchup, just to get to the American League Division Series.
It was 2011, when they were 10 games back in the AL East and 2.5 games back in the wild card, and managed to sneak into the postseason at the Red Sox’ expense.
It was also 2010, when they won the division but dropped the first two games of the ALDS against the Texas Rangers in their own ballpark and faced an elimination game on the road.
Rays manager Joe Maddon remembers just how tight the space was between the rock and the hard place back then, especially with the Rays dangling from a two-games-to-none cliff as prepare they face the Sox in Game 3 of the ALDS tonight.
Even though they went on to lose the series, the Rays managed to take both games in Texas and force a Game 5.
“I do remember going to Texas and I do remember standing on the top step of that dugout and really trying to demonstrate to the rest of the group that let's go, we're ready to play, we can do this, that kind of stuff,” said Maddon, who already said he’s looking forward to coming back to Boston for a decisive Game 5. “We played well and we got it back home.”
Since 1995, 22 teams have fallen behind, two games to none, in the ALDS. Only four have come back to win, and even though the Rays have very recent history to draw from when it comes to having to win three straight, that experience doesn’t make the challenge any easier.
“Listen, you're down two, you've won three games in a row in the past, we've done that before,” Maddon said. “We just came off of an incredibly difficult stretch. The difference is the team we're playing. This team we're playing is really good.
"I'm not saying the other ones aren't. But this team has played really well all season, and they've played well against us. We have to turn this boulder around pretty quickly.”
A few more notes ahead of Game 3:
• Maddon made a conscious decision to bat Wil Myers in the cleanup spot in an elimination game at home even though Myers went 0 for 9 in the first two games and became a punching bag for fans at Fenway after botching a fly ball in Game 1.
“I really think he’s a special kid and I think this is a perfect opportunity for him to really kind of turn things around for himself right now,” Maddon said. “He’s going to, over a period of time, there’s no question. Turning it around is the tough moment he just went through. This guy is going to be a high-end, very successful, sought-after major league baseball player for many years.”
• Matt Joyce got the nod at designated hitter over Delmon Young, who had been Maddon’s choice over the final six games of the regular season as well as the first three playoff games. Maddon preferred Joyce (2 for 22 against Clay Buchholz) to Young (1 for 9).
“I was looking at all that stuff,” Maddon said. “It’s a close call. I felt better with him versus [John] Lackey than I do Buchholz right now. The other part of that is to have Delmon on the bench if necessary in the latter part of the game.”