ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon sat alone in his office, waiting for the reaction of his players gathered around televisions in the middle of the clubhouse.
The Rays beat the New York Yankees 5-2 on Monday, then celebrated yet another Boston Red Sox loss that left the American League wild-card race tied with two games to go.
“I didn’t want to expend any more energy in front of a TV,” Maddon said. “It was fun to listen to guys from afar.”
James Shields came within one out of his 12th complete game, yielding six hits. Kyle Farnsworth finished for his 24th save, closing it out moments before the Red Sox lost 6-3 at Baltimore. The Rays and Red Sox each have two games left.
“It’s been a nice little run. All the stars have been aligned for us, and here we are,” Shields said. “This is what baseball is all about.”
B.J. Upton drove in two runs with a third-inning double off Hector Noesi (2-2). Kelly Shoppach homered for the second straight day for the Rays, who have won three straight and are 14-7 since Sept. 4, when they trailed Boston by nine games. Johnny Damon’s third-inning RBI single moved him into a tie with Lou Gehrig for 57th on the career hits list with 2,721.
Robinson Cano homered in the first and hit an RBI single in the third, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead against Shields, who allowed just five baserunners over the last six innings. The All-Star right-hander walked three and struck out four to win for the first time in three starts.
“It’s great. We’re really into it. We feel good about this. We like our chances,” Maddon said.
“There’s a real strong believability about what we’re trying to accomplish right now,” the manager added. “It means something to be that far back at the beginning of this month and now we’re tied with a couple of games to go. That’s quite an accomplishment in and of itself. But when you get to this point, you really want to finish things off.”
Shields (16-12) left after walking Eric Chavez. Farnsworth got Jesus Montero to ground out with a crowd of 18,772 on its feet. As the Rays retreated to the clubhouse, fans remained standing while watching a video screen airing the ninth inning of the Red Sox-Orioles game.
There was an eruption of cheers when the Orioles got the final out.
“Our fate is in our hands,” Shields said. “We don’t have to worry about the Red Sox losing now. That feels really good, especially how far we were back.
“This is where we want to be. We’re down to the last two games of the year, and we control our own fate.”
The Yankees clinched the AL East title last week during a 6-2 homestand in which they also helped the Rays by winning two of three against Boston. They flew to Florida following Sunday night’s 14-inning loss to the Red Sox, arriving at their Tampa hotel around 5 a.m.
Even though New York also has home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs, manager Joe Girardi said he would play each game of this series to win while also trying to set his team up for the start of the playoffs on Friday.
“I know they’ll have to do some things with their playoff situation, but they’re going to play it straight up I’m pretty sure,” the Rays’ Maddon said.