After splitting their series with the Texas Rangers, there was nothing more that the Tampa Bay Rays would have preferred than to complete a four game sweep over the Baltimore Orioles.
This is exactly what they did, with the help of a James Loney’s walk-off home run Monday night in Tampa. With no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Joe Maddon sent out Loney to pinch hit for Sean Rodriguez. There was no question that Maddon made the right move after Loney lined an 0-1 fastball over the right field wall.
With just six games left in the season, this win could not have come at a better time for the Rays, who are trying to preserve a two-game lead in the American League Wild Card race. By sweeping Baltimore, the Rays have almost completely knocked the O’s out of the race, as they now sit five games behind the Cleveland Indians. The three other contenders for the Wild Card spots, however, were able to win on Monday and still find themselves in the mix. The Kansas City Royals are now three games out of the Indians’ second Wild Card spot, while the Rangers are only one away.
The Rays start a road series with the New York Yankees tonight, who may have lost almost all hope of reaching the postseason this year after failing to sweep the San Francisco Giants on Sunday afternoon. Unless the Rays were to lose all three games, the Yankees can pretty much be counted out. That is not to say, however, that they are not a dangerous ballclub. If the Yankees were to win the series, it may be a serious blow to Tampa, who still have to worry about both the red-hot Indians and the Rangers.
The Rays still find themselves in a heated Wild Card battle going into the last six games of the season, and need to hope that they can ride the momentum of Loney’s walk-off homer right into the playoffs.