ST. PETERSBURG -- This was how it was supposed to go down during the ninth inning Monday at Tropicana Field:
James Loney would come off to bench to pinch-hit. Then journeyman speedster Freddy Guzman would come off the bench to pinch-run.
And then somebody, anybody would drive him in, delivering the run the Tampa Bay Rays needed to finish off a sweep of the reeling Baltimore Orioles and further enhance their playoff hopes.
But nothing went according to plan during a madcap afternoon and evening at the Trop, and that included Loney's at-bat, which ended when he turned on an 0-1 pitch and sent it into the right-field stands for a walk-off home run.
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Final score: Rays 5, Orioles 4.
And Tampa Bay heads to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday with a one-game lead over the idle Cleveland Indians for the American League's top wild-card spot.
"I knew I hit it good. I was like, 'Come on, that's got to get out of here," Loney, who had the day off, said of the Rays' first pinch-hit home run of the year. "I was looking for a good pitch to drive, and fortunately, that's what I got."
Monday served as the Rays' final home game of the season, though manager Joe Maddon is confident his team hasn't seen the last of the Trop, especially because the wild card team with the best record hosts a one-game playoff Wednesday, Oct. 2.
"Absolutely," Maddon said. "We'll be playing here again this year."
Chances are the 17,830 in attendance for what Maddon called a "brunch game" would heartily agree, as they watched the Rays erase a 4-2 deficit and get another sterling performance from the bullpen.
They also watched Ben Zobrist alter the game with his arm. Playing left field for the second time this season, Zobrist threw out Alexi Casilla trying to score with two outs in the seventh and cut down Matt Wieters' attempt to stretch a double into a triple leading off the eighth.
"Ben Zobrist playing left field today won today's game," Maddon said. "Zo's defense won today's game -- period."
Zobrist, however, shared the praise with his teammates. Casilla, who was pinch-running after Orioles third baseman Manny Machado suffered a severe left leg injury when he tripped over first base, actually beat the throw home. But catcher Jose Molina's block prevented Casilla from touching the plate, and when umpire Dan Bellino didn't make a call, Molina hopped up and tagged Casilla.
Regarding the Wieters' hit, Zobrist credited shortstop Yunel Escobar, covering third on the play, for picking his low throw out of the dirt and quickly tagging Wieters on the ankle.
"You have to do it on both ends," Zobrist said, "and those guys did it."
In the seventh, however, the Orioles nearly weaved some great defense of their own. The Rays trailed 4-2 with two outs and the bases loaded when Wil Myers looped a liner into short right field. Casilla, now at second so second baseman Ryan Flaherty could replace Machado at third, sprinted, dived and made a catch worthy of a dozen web gems.
But just before he landed, Casilla crashed head first into the knee of right fielder Nick Markakis, jarring the ball loose and allowing the tying runs to score.
"That's a great effort on Casilla's part," Maddon said. "Wil could not have had a baseball in his hand and thrown it to a more difficult spot for them. ... We could backtrack all the moments that have not worked out for us this year, too. And when it's not working out for you, if you concede, then it will continue to not work out for you. But if you don't concede, then it will come back to you."
Six Rays relievers teamed for 4 2/3 shutout innings with the win going to Joel Peralta, who struck out Chris Davis to end the ninth. Davis' 52nd home run of the year gave Baltimore a 2-1 lead in the fourth.
Now the Rays head to Yankee Stadium before closing out the regular season with three in Toronto. And like their manager, they're confident they will see the Trop again in 2013.
"Everybody was just feeling like we were going to win this game," Zobrist said. "It's definitely been electric -- this whole series it really was against Baltimore. ... I think it's just because of where we're at right now and what we have to accomplish and I don't think anybody's too tight and everybody's staying loose.
"We've got six games to go, and they're just as big."