ST. PETERSBURG — Perched in the 200 section of Tropicana Field, along the right field line, Courtland Samuels was confident.
It was the sixth inning and the Tampa Bay Rays were in the process of collecting the third win in a four-game series against the Baltimore Orioles Sunday.
They won, 3-1, in front of 28,974 fans.
Samuels, who lives in Tampa, is sure the Rays (86-69) will hold on to its wild-card lead with seven games left in the regular season, including the final regular-season home game today at 3:10 p.m. against Baltimore.
But his confidence is tinged with a dose or reality.
“One of their downfalls is that they’re so streaky,” Samuels said. “One week they can win seven games in a row and the next week they could lose seven and score four runs. I think it was either July or August when they won 25 out of 28 games. That was the season right there.”
In July, the Rays won 21 of 26 games. They ended June winning five of seven games, all of which went toward either keeping them within reach of or atop the American League East standings.
That streak has also worked in the opposite.
The squad went 4-13 at the end of August and the beginning of September, including a three-game sweep by the Oakland Athletics. It made even a wild-card appearance seem shaky.
“I’m not disappointed at all,” Jake Gullekson said. “As long as they can keep going, keep winning in the last week and get the wild card spot, and get a game at home, that would be pretty awesome.”
David Herriott and Carrie Campbell, both of St. Petersburg, meandered through Ferg’s Sports Bar and Grill, an open-air bar just a few outfield relays away from The Trop.
They, too, are feeling something special about this group of ballplayers on the doorstep of the postseason.
“Coming into the season, I thought they’d be really good with the pitching lineup, but we kind of hit the skids a little bit,” Herriott said. “But now we’re making that late run for the playoffs.”
Added Campbell: “We’re where we expected to be now with a shot (at the playoffs).”
The pair spent the first few innings inside Tropicana Field, but decided to change the scenery. Both said they have confidence in a group of starting pitchers who entered the season lauded as one of the best rotations in Major League Baseball.
Stephen Brose, Dianne Cohrs and Lynne Hallman sat at a high top table inside Ferg’s near one of just a few television sets playing the Rays game Sunday. The trio was also open to postseason talk.
“I’m used to the Rays coming back and sneaking in there, like the World Series (year in 2008),” Brose said. “We’re all hopeful. They can still go all the way.”
Hallman, who has been a season ticket holder for the past seven years, is excited about the players who have bolstered the Rays roster from the minors or acquisitions.
“I’m thrilled to see them bring up some fresh talent with Wil Myers and David DeJesus,” she said. “I was excited to see them give young players the chance and that they’re not afraid to use them to fill the gaps created by injuries.”
Aaron Samuels, visiting family in Tampa from San Jose, Calif., sported a Tampa Bay Rays jersey as he sat near his cousin Courtland.
He, too, was touched by the allure of the playoffs.
“I have total confidence that the Rays will go all the way and possibly this year they’ll get a World Series title right here in Tampa Bay,” he said.