Fernando Rodney entered the game in the ninth hoping to protect a 9-7 lead. Ryan Flaherty greeted the Rays' closer with a single to start the inning. Two outs later Nick Markakis walked to bring to the plate Adam Jones, who chopped one to third.
Rodriguez raced in to grab the ball and made an off-balance throw that barely sailed over first baseman Carlos Pena's glove. A run scored and the runners moved into scoring position. The Rays still led at that point, but based on the way the weekend had gone, the first-place Orioles appeared to be in the driver's seat with Matt Wieters stepping to the plate.
Wieters hit a ball down the third-base line. Rodriguez charged and found himself on awkward footing once he backhanded the ball. He still managed to snap off a one-hopper to first that Pena grabbed to end the game.
"The last throw, [Rodriguez is] coming in, he fell, he threw it unbalanced and I was able to come up with it to seal the deal," Pena said. "Very exciting to watch and I'm glad I helped him out at the end."
Rodriguez completed the pair's mutual admiration by saying, "Nice pick by 'Los."
Given the nature of the team's direction of late, coupled with Sunday's exciting climax, Rays manager Joe Maddon allowed himself to enjoy the win.
"As I'm running out to the mound afterwards, high-fiving everyone, I'm yelling, 'We had it all the way,'" Maddon teased.
How the game progressed to that fateful ninth inning involved a wild ride.
After scoring just three runs in each of their previous three games, the Rays charged out of the gate Sunday, scoring three in the first on an RBI single by Elliot Johnson before Ben Zobrist doubled home two for a 3-0 Rays lead.
Pena doubled home a run in the third and the Rays continued to pile it on in the fourth when Matt Joyce had an RBI single and Pena added a two-run double to put the Rays up 7-1.
Meanwhile, James Shields was on the mound hunting for his sixth win of the season and giving the appearance that he had the game on ice. Instead, the relentless Orioles just kept coming.
In the sixth, Markakis doubled home a run and Wieters added a two-run homer to cut the lead to 7-4. Robert Andino then led off the Orioles' seventh with a single before Shields got Flaherty to ground to Will Rhymes at second for what appeared to be an easy double play. But Rhymes made a bad toss to Johnson covering at second and both runners were safe. Shields struck out Xavier Avery then got pulled in favor of Burke Badenhop.
Badenhop got J.J. Hardy to hit the ball back to the box. Badenhop fielded the ball and threw to second base for the force, but Hardy beat the throw to first, leaving runners at first and third with two outs.
Jake McGee took over and allowed a double to center field that B.J. Upton barely missed hauling in with a circus catch. Both runners scored to cut the lead to 7-6.
Fortunately for the Rays, they did not shut down their offense, responding in the eighth with their first back-to-back home runs of the season. Johnson's came first and Zobrist's followed to give the Rays a 9-6 lead. Both were hit against reliever Troy Patton, which seemed miraculous given the way the Orioles bullpen pitched during the series, throwing 10 scoreless innings and retiring 30 of 31 batters until Johnson's home run.
"We played a good ballgame," Markakis said. "Shields was good early. We scored some runs off him. Anytime you score runs off him, that's good. He had a good fastball today. We made a run at the end there, and if Pena doesn't catch that ball there, we may possibly win that game there. You can't hang your heads. It's a good game all around."
Meanwhile, the Orioles look like a different team than what the Rays have seen the past several years.
"Good team, good team," Shields said. "They've always been a team that's been able to hit the ball. They've always had those good hitters. And now they've got the pitching. Their bullpen is phenomenal this year. And their starting pitching is going deep into the game. That's one of the recipes we've figured out the last couple of years. You have to have pitching and defense to win ballgames."