TORONTO — The way the Rays played Friday — all nine innings, lesson learned — in beating the Jays 11-3 provided the best answer on how, or even if, they could rebound from the crushing loss the night before that all but ended their long shot run for a playoff spot.
They hit the ball all over the field but none out, flashed some dazzling outfield defense, and pitched well enough to win their 15th of 19 September games and improve to 86-67.
The Rays stayed within 6½ games of the second AL wild-card-holding A's, who won on a walkoff Khris Davis homer, though with only nine games left and any combination of three losses or Oakland wins knocking them out.
"To see us bounce back, that's what we were looking for,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "The guys really responded. Didn't hang their heads.''
Getting past Thursday's debacle, in which they turned an 8-2 lead over the meek Blue Jays into the worst ninth-inning collapse in franchise history by losing 9-8, was something. Learning from it, somehow, some way, would at least be something positive. If only that was possible.
"Those losses, they're daggers,'' Cash said before Friday's game. "I don't know if anybody in the clubhouse went back to the hotel and felt really good about it or got that great a night of sleep.
"So you'd like to think that you can learn from anything, any tough loss, any good win. I don't know if there's been a tougher one this year, given the magnitude and the run we were on.''
Some players, such as rookie Jake Bauers, saw the collapse as "just a freak thing," an inexplicable act of "the baseball gods.'' Veteran reliever Sergio Romo, who gave up the tying and losing homers, had a wiser perspective, saying it reinforced the painful point, especially to the young Rays, of the importance of having a "foot on the gas pedal mentality'' and always trying to add on.
"I think it's a lesson for some of these guys that hadn't seen it in the big leagues yet, especially from our squad, where we were up by that many that late in the game and ended up not walking away with a victory,'' Romo said.
"I think that'd be the lesson for them … anything is possible. There's no letting off, 27 outs for a reason.''
Thursday's game provided much to talk about, including a pair of decisions Cash made in the ninth that retrospectively were quite questionable.
First, taking out centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier to give newcomer Austin Meadows a chance to pinch-hit and play an inning in right, with Mallex Smith sliding to center. That became an issue when Kendrys Morales' two-out blooper dropped between Smith, who was playing deep, and second baseman Joey Wendle.
Could Kiermaier, one of the game's fastest and best, have made the catch?
"Look, we'll never know,'' Cash said. "I understand the question. But at the same time, I'll fall back on (it's) 8-2, we've got a whole bunch of guys down in that bullpen that can certainly navigate through that type of lead. Unfortunately, we just didn't.''
Which leads to why Cash, who has been managing his bullpen very aggressively, stuck with rookie Jamie Schultz in the ninth as he allowed the first three hitters to reach (double, double, hit batter) and a run in. After getting an out, Schultz then gave up a three-run homer to Danny Jansen that cut the lead to 8-6.
"Lot of confidence in Jaime,'' Cash said. "I know that was a rough night for him. Ultimately, he fell behind some guys and then got back into the count, put himself in position where he could get some outs, he just couldn't find a way to finish guys off. He hit a guy with a 3-2 pitch. … As far as that on my end, I felt up until that home run that Schultzy was fine to navigate through that inning.''
It got worse, as Romo gave up the blooper to Morales, a two-run tying homer to Lourdes Gurriel and, a pitch later, the winner to Justin Smoak.
Romo said he was ready and prepared to pitch despite the score, his only regret hanging the slider to Gurriel: "The only pitch that I put on the silver platter.''
The result: Their worst ninth-inning collapse ever, surpassing a pair of wasted five-run margins, June 30, 2016, against Detroit and June 5, 2007, also at Toronto, and their largest blown loss in a lead since Aug. 9, 2013, when they led the Dodgers 6-0 through five innings and lost 7-6.
On Friday, there weren't any regrets. The Rays rapped 15 hits, with Meadows delivering three (and knocking in three runs), and 10 other players at least one. Smith and Kiermaier each made a pair of highlight-worthy catches. Jalen Beeks got the win for three okay winnings following opener Diego Castillo, and Austin Pruitt a three-inning save.
"We have a bunch of guys that are quick to forget a loss,'' Cash said. "And we've had two really tough losses here lately (Thursday and the first game vs. Oakland last weekend). … They get it. They understand. They just knew it was kind of back to work. Forget about (Thursday). We have to win a lot.''