ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays pushed their season to the brink a fourth time Monday night.
Their fans, too.
But none of them were complaining, even with a game so long and so close the nail-biting was bloody, because they were finally treated to that most dramatic of finishes — a walk-off homer.
And the fans live to cheer another day.
“We lost our voices; it was awesome,” declared Jason Garvey of Ellenton, wearing his Rays jersey in the stands. “I’m trying to get off tomorrow so I can go to the game. One more game — and we go back to Boston to do it again!”
With Monday’s win, fans will pack Tropicana Field again tonight hoping to avoid elimination, tie up the series with the Boston Red Sox at 2-2, and win a chance at a decisive fifth game on the road.
They’ll have their signature cowbells and vuvuzuelas at the ready again tonight, as they did Monday about 10:30 p.m. — 4 1/2 hours after the first pitch — when they could finally let loose with a cacophony of victory.
Throughout the day, coming into Monday’s game down 2-0 in the series, there was hesitation but faith in the voices of many fans.
After all, they’ve been living on the edge for a while now, avoiding post-season elimination in games just days ago against teams from Toronto, Texas and Cleveland.
“It’s do or die tonight,” said Chad Grambling of Sarasota, during a fan rally at Ferg’s Sports Bar near the Trop. “They always seem to do good in the clutch, so I’m hoping for the best.”
Some fans blamed the Rays’ poor early showing against Boston on the pressure of playing on the road.
“They’re home, they got a crowd behind them,” said Mark Dicks, who made the trip to Tropicana Field from Tampa. “You’ll hear Boston cheers tonight, but you can definitely tell that the Rays cheers are definitely overpowering the Boston crowd.”
Some of the game’s tenser moments on the field were matched in the stands by screaming matches as Rays and Red Sox fans tried to outdo each other. These American League East rivals always draw some of the biggest crowds to the Trop anyway, so mix in the playoffs and tension is high.
The Red Sox broke out to a 1-0 lead that wouldn’t budge early on, leaving some Rays fans pessimistic about a recent offensive slump.
“It was pretty awful,” said George Scott of Lutz. “It was just awful. But the Rays are a good team and I have a really good feeling about them coming back.”
The dim view turned around in the fifth inning when third baseman Evan Longoria came to bat.
“I thought that we were doomed from the beginning, but when Longo hit that home run, it changed everything,” said Ryan Cottie of Lakeland.
The fight the Rays put up came as no surprise to many fans.
They have the talent to go far into the playoffs, said Shawn Farr, of Indian Rocks Beach. They just have to eliminate the mistakes, he said, and trust in manager Joe Maddon.
“My main concern would be that if we do fall behind with pitching that basically Maddon would wait too long to pull the pitcher out, but I don’t think we’re going to have that problem today.”
Added fan Bob Dahlstrom, of Tampa. “When they’re good, they’re really good, and when they’re bad, they’re really bad. It’s been a streaky season, so we’re hoping to catch fire and get on one of those streaks again like they were earlier.”