And then the dam broke. With two runs in the eighth and three more in the ninth in Saturday's rousing 6-3 victory, the Rays not only kept their season alive for at least one more day, but they rediscovered themselves in the process.
"It was just an eruption," said righty Matt Garza. "Pent-up frustration was released. After that, the gates were opened. We went up there swinging and hacking and that's what we like seeing."
Expect the Rays to be at their aggressive best for the start of Game 4. The Rangers had extracted their motor in the first two games, and for the first seven innings of Game 3.
But Tampa Bay has gotten its groove back, and two key hitters -- Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford -- got their confidence back by going deep in the ninth.
"It was typical Rays baseball," said right fielder Matt Joyce. "Sixth inning on, scoring our runs, making the game exciting and coming out with the win. Great pitching, great defense -- typical Rays baseball."
There was nothing typical about the first two games, when the Rays were completely out of their element.
"The first two games back at the Trop we did not play as well as we can," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And then today, I am not saying we didn't play well in the first part, but we could not get on top. It is like a wrestling match, you have to get on top. Eventually we were able to do that and then hold on with our very good bullpen."
However, as Maddon watched his team's in-game resurgence, the lifting of tension was palpable from the dugout.
"Everybody really picked up," Maddon said. "The whole attitude within the dugout, the spirit, everything just came to life. And then again, the one concept we always talk about are the add-on runs. We call them jug runs. To get the three in the ninth inning also, to really ease the pressure a bit on Rafael [Soriano] because they had a pretty meaty part of the batting order coming up at that part of the juncture [was big]. So it was a really good team win -- more like us."
Now that their confidence is completely restored, the Rays should look even more like themselves in Game 4.
The pressure has swung back to the Rangers. Even though they have ace Cliff Lee lined up for Game 5, they would much rather put away Tampa Bay and start the lefty in Game 1 of the LCS.
"The momentum swings are huge, especially right now," Garza said. "We can't really talk about anything but [Sunday]. We enjoy today for the next two or three hours and get ready to do it again. All I can say is come back and do it again."
As the Rays filed out of Rangers Ballpark on Saturday, it was almost as if they couldn't wait to come back in the morning.
"After losing those two games at home and coming here and winning the game, it's a big confidence builder," Joyce said. "We're going to come in tomorrow just as confident and we're going to have some momentum and go right back at it."
Though the situation might still look daunting for the team that is trailing, Maddon continues to keep it in perspective.
"I'm not really the desperate type," Maddon said. "I really want us to understand the moment and just stay involved. Stay involved, stay in the moment. Fight. Let's fight. If anything, if we just fight I'm happy. If you don't win that game you and fight and you lose that game, I'm very happy. So I just want us to fight, that's all. We have that in us. We've been kind of dormant a little bit for the last couple of days. Tonight the fight showed up again and that's a good sign."
With a win in their back pockets, the Rays suddenly look and sound a lot more relaxed.
"I was so nervous hoping that we didn't get swept," Crawford said. "That was the main thing, just don't get swept. We got so close, just to get out of that, it feels so much better. It almost feels like we're winning the series right now. So we are definitely going to come and play our style and try to play aggressive tomorrow and try to tie things back up. But we definitely feel good about ourselves right now."