Walk-off magic: Rays stay alone atop AL Wild Card

Walk-off magic: Rays stay alone atop AL Wild Card

Walk-off magic: Rays stay alone atop AL Wild Card

ST. PETERSBURG -- What a way to wrap up the regular-season home schedule.

Pinch-hitter James Loney connected on an 0-1 pitch from Tommy Hunter to lead off the bottom of the ninth and deposited the ball into the right-field stands to give the Rays a 5-4 walk-off win over the Orioles.

Loney's blow completed a marathon four-game sweep of the Orioles at Tropicana Field that began with Friday night's 18-inning win and concluded with Monday's come-from-behind victory, pushing the Rays a full game ahead of the idle Indians in the American League Wild Card standings.

After the game, thankful Rays fans stood and cheered for the team as the players gave away the shirts off their back for their yearly fund-raiser. The team headed for a charter to New York for three against the Yankees before finishing the season next weekend with three in Toronto against the Blue Jays.

Loney was out of Monday's starting lineup because manager Joe Maddon thought he looked a little fatigued. When the bottom of the ninth rolled around, Maddon called on Loney, and he delivered.

"I knew I hit it good," Loney said. "And I'm like, 'Come on. That ball has to get out of here.' And I think it landed in the first row. It barely got out.

"It feels pretty good to win the game like that in the last game of the regular season at home. It's a special feeling."

The win gave the Rays a 51-30 mark at home, but most importantly, it intensified an already growing team spirit -- particularly after surviving the battle of attrition over the weekend.

"I think after the 18-inning affair, that's one of those games that can really help you turn a corner," Evan Longoria said. "There's no telling what happens if you don't come out on the winning end of that game."

The loss severely dented the Orioles' playoff chances.

"It's just frustrating, because they played hard," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "But you know, there's another game tomorrow. Fortunately and unfortunately, this game can be real cold. You got to turn the page."

Chris Archer started for the Rays, and the 1-0 cushion Tim Beckham's second-inning sacrifice fly gave him looked pretty solid the way the rookie right-hander was pitching.

Archer blanked the Orioles for three innings on no hits, adding exclamation points along the way -- like the 97-mph heater he used to retire Adam Jones swinging to end the first.

Alas, Archer's magic extended only through three. Manny Machado singled to left to start the fourth. Chris Davis followed with his Major League-leading 52nd home run and J.J. Hardy added an RBI single to give the Orioles a 3-1 lead.

Jose Molina doubled home a run in the fourth for the Rays, but Brian Roberts homered to open the fifth. One out later, Archer was out of the game.

"There's really not much to talk about my effort in the game," said Archer, who got a no-decision after allowing four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. "I did my best. My pitch selection to Chris Davis wasn't good. Everything else that I did I wasn't upset about."

Following Arhcer's departure, the Rays' bullpen went into lockdown mode. Wesley Wright, Brandon Gomes, Alex Torres, Jake McGee, Jamey Wright and Joel Peralta did not allow a run through the final 4 2/3 frames, though their effort was greatly aided by an outfield assist from Ben Zobrist.

Playing left field for only the second time this season, Zobrist threw out Alexi Casilla at the plate to end the seventh and Matt Wieters in the eighth trying to stretch a leadoff double into a triple.

Zobrist's throw that nailed Casilla, who ran for Machado after he was injured earlier in the inning, received an assist from Molina. Zobrist's throw arrived into Molina's mitt just as Casilla slid headfirst. Seconds after the dust cleared, home-plate umpire Dan Bellino had still not signaled whether Casilla was safe or out. Molina ended the suspense by tagging Casilla for the third out, preventing Baltimore from taking a 5-2 lead.

"It is funny, because I didn't tag him, I knew that," Molina said. "[After he didn't see a signal from the umpire], I looked at [Casilla] and he didn't move. So I went to tag him."

Tampa Bay tied the score at 4 when Wil Myers singled with two outs in the seventh. Playing second, Casilla tried to make a diving stab of Myers' flare. Casilla had the ball securely in the webbing of his glove, but it came loose when Casilla's head collided with Nick Markakis' leg as the charging Orioles right fielder could not back off.

"Got lucky," Myers said. "He did catch it. ... It looked like it was in his glove. As soon as he ran in and collided with the guy, you saw what happened. Just some luck going our way right now. That's a tough play. It was placed in a good spot. I hope the guy's all right."

Monday's win gave the Rays their 13th walk-off win of the season, tying a club record (2011) and tying Arizona for the Major League lead.

"You've got to keep believing, our guys do," Maddon said. "They come to play every night. What else could you possibly want as a manager?"

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.