The Orioles had hoped to force a one-game playoff with the Yankees to determine the winner of the American League East, but Baltimore's loss eliminated that possibility.
"Tip your hat to Joe Maddon and the Rays, they played 162," Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said. "Their players went out every game this season, until the last one, and gave it all they got."
Not only did the Rays win their 90th game, they successfully stated their bittersweet case for being the best team not to make the postseason.
"Getting 90 wins, I felt really strongly about, and I did mention it in my address to the team yesterday," Maddon said. "Organizationally speaking for this particular ballclub, it's important to win 90 games. And it also highlights going into next year how important 95 is.
"So when people don't understand the concept of everyday counting, boom, here you go. Last year it counted, this year it counted in a negative way. We've got to figure out those five games somehow, that 90 to 95 moment, which normally is what you need to do."
Top billing on Wednesday night went to Evan Longoria, who clubbed three home runs, all of the solo variety, sending one last reminder of what the Rays missed for three months while he languished on the disabled list with a partially torn left hamstring.
"If you want to grasp on to one thought, that would be it. Because it's obvious. That's so obvious," Maddon said. "That is so obvious you can't even try to deflect that in any way, shape or form. That is that obvious. But it wasn't to be. I guess there's at least three or four wins in there somewhere [if Longoria doesn't miss three months]."
Longoria's home runs came in the first, fourth and sixth innings, and he ended with 17 for the season.
"It was cool," said Longoria, who hit two memorable home runs in Game 162 last season. "That's about as fun a night as you can have in a baseball game."
Ryan Roberts joined Longoria with a solo shot, his sixth as a member of the Rays and his 12th on the season.
Meanwhile, for the third time in as many nights, the Orioles received a heaping helping of the straw that stirs the Rays' drink: pitching. Alex Cobb and James Shields carried the load in dominating fashion on Monday and Tuesday before Wednesday night's crew reaffirmed the special season by the entire staff.
Jeremy Hellickson started and got some help in the first inning when Chris Davis hit a fly ball toward center field. But what appeared to be a routine flyout suddenly looked like trouble, when B.J. Upton held out his arms as though he had no idea where the ball was.
Fortunately for the Rays, shortstop Ben Zobrist did, and he hauled in the ball in short center after it ricocheted off the B ring for the final out of the first.
"I didn't even know if it counted or not, I think I stayed on the mound for, like, 10 seconds," Hellickson said. "Pretty good play, though."
Fair balls that hit Tropicana Field's A or B ring catwalks are live.
Hellickson held the Orioles scoreless on one hit, a walk and six strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings to earn his 10th win.
After Hellickson exited, Maddon staged what looked like a military parade, rolling in one weapon after another from the powerful bullpen.
Jake McGee retired the three hitters he faced before Wade Davis took over and recorded the next five outs. Joel Peralta allowed a sacrifice fly to Jones to account for the Orioles' lone run. Maddon then called for Fernando Rodney, much to the delight of the fans, who wanted to see the closer fire one last arrow.
Facing Jim Thome with two outs in the ninth, Rodney delivered, getting Thome to fly out to right for the final out of the season, earning Rodney his 48th save while lowering his ERA to a record-setting 0.60, thereby surpassing Dennis Eckersley's previous record for a reliever with at least 50 appearances (0.61 in 1990).
"I was surprised by the year I had," Rodney said. "Next year I want to be the same guy and do my job. I want to be the same person I am today."
The Rays have now won 90 games for three consecutive seasons -- joining the Yankees and Red Sox as the only clubs to do so -- and for the fourth time in the last five seasons, joining the Yankees and Phillies.
"I don't think we could have ended it any better," Hellickson said. "Obviously, we'd rather be playing in October. Longo's definitely a great player, but in 162 he's something else. Pretty special game today."