ARLINGTON, Texas — This time one week ago, the Rays were beginning a crucial three-game series in the Bronx against New York. The Rays proceeded to sweep the Yankees in impressive fashion, outscoring them 19-3 before heading to Toronto.
Tampa Bay dropped the first two games to the Blue Jays before winning 7-6 on Sunday to force Monday night’s AL wild-card tiebreaker.
After the Rays won on Sunday afternoon, they had to see if Cleveland or Arlington would be their destination. But once the Rangers beat the Angels 6-2, Tampa Bay headed to the Lone Star State, arriving in the Dallas area about 11 Sunday night.
And despite traveling 2,800 miles in the past week, manager Joe Maddon and Co. were treating Monday’s winner-take-all contest like any other game.
“We’re playing a Game 163,” said outfielder Desmond Jennings, who started Monday’s game in center field as the Rays’ leadoff man, his first start since leaving a 3-1 win against Baltimore on Sept. 22 with a hamstring injury. “(The past week) has been very crazy. We’re prepared for it, ready to go.”
And while Maddon realized that Monday could mark the first of several high-stakes games the Rays could play this week, he also realized there were plenty of big-league managers who saw their seasons end on Sunday who would love to be in his position.
“(This past week) has been wonderful. I love it. I absolutely love it. I love this kind of stuff. I think our guys do, too,” Maddon said. “If we could be involved in this on an annual basis, since 2008 we’ve been playing this kind of role annually. I think there’s not a whole lot more you could ask for.”
This is the third straight season the Rays won at least 90 games, and they advanced to the postseason two of the previous three years.
“As a kid sitting at home rooting for your team, to know that your team is going to give you this kind of year on an annual basis, growing up as a young Cardinal fan, I remember what that was like. For so many reasons, this is a very successful moment for us,” Maddon said.