Zobrist, Rays down Tigers in 11 innings
Shortstop clubs go-ahead homer in regular-season finale
DETROIT -- Sunday afternoon felt like Spring Training and nothing like the end of a baseball season.
Given the Rays' constantly shifting lineup, you almost expected to see pitchers running in the outfield during the late innings of an 8-7 win in 11 innings over the Tigers in front of a crowd of 40,373 at Comerica Park.
By the time the game finished, three hours and 47 minutes after it had started, Tampa Bay had used 22 players.
"We had a lot of things preordained from the beginning," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And then as it just started going, we had a lot of options. I did not want to start anybody's engines up. So it was just really trying to keep it going until the end, and it worked out well."
Ben Zobrist hit a solo home run off Chris Lambert (1-2) with one out in the top of the 11th to give the Rays an 8-7 lead en route to their first win against the Tigers in the four-game weekend series.
"I loved the way we played today -- extra innings on the last day on the road," Maddon said. "I really like winning on the road in extra innings. Ben Zobrist, my goodness, he's changing into Zorilla -- he'll never change that hairstyle, I'm sure. Twenty years from now, he's going to be wearing the Mohawk."
Zobrist, like many players on the team, embraced the hirsute fashion of the Rays (97-65) and homered four times during the team's stay in Detroit.
"I like playing here, I guess; I see the ball good," Zobrist said. "You know it's a great-looking stadium, I love playing in it. It's just nice to come out with a win. I wouldn't have felt good with four losses to finish the year. But I think now that we came out of here with a win, it's going to feel good going into Thursday."
As for the Mohawk, does it stay?
"I don't know, I might have to keep it, the way it's been going," Zobrist said.
James Shields started for the Rays in a final tuneup before making his first playoff start. The right-hander threw one inning, retiring the Tigers (74-87) in order before giving way to Mitch Talbot.
"It was actually pretty fun," said Shields of the one-inning outing. "I was pretty pumped up about it. To me, I tried to approach it as any old start, especially since the hitters I were facing were All-Stars. I didn't want to make my one inning an embarrassment."
Talbot surrendered a three-run homer to Curtis Granderson in the third inning as the Tigers went up, 3-0. Things didn't get any better for Talbot in the fourth, when he walked in two runs with the bases loaded.
Zach Miner started for the Tigers and was perfect for four innings before Rocco Baldelli hit a 432-foot homer to lead off the fifth. Eric Hinske added a two-run homer to account for his 20th of the season and cut Detroit's lead to 5-3.
Jonny Gomes hit a bases-loaded pinch-hit double in the eighth to tie the score at 5. Zobrist then singled home the go-ahead run, and Hinske walked with the bases loaded to give the Rays a 7-5 lead.
Magglio Ordonez sent the game into extra innings when he homered in the bottom of the ninth on a 2-2 pitch from Edwin Jackson to tie the score at 7.
Jackson (14-11) pitched a scoreless 10th and actually came away with the win after Jason Hammel nailed down the save with a scoreless 11th, aided greatly by Justin Ruggiano's acrobatic diving catch in foul territory for the first out in the inning. Jackson blew the save but managed to pick up his 14th win of the season, which tied him with Shields for the team lead, which also is a club record.
Shields teased Jackson about getting the win, to which Jackson replied: "Trust me, I wasn't planning on blowing a save to get a win."
Jackson's outing could be a precursor of things to come during the postseason, when one, or perhaps two, of the Rays' starters will shift to the bullpen. Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine would be the candidates to move.
Maddon acknowledged afterward that he "was curious to see E.J. in that role."
Jackson shrugged his shoulders when asked about such a scenario.
"I'm a team player," Jackson said. "I've been in the 'pen before. Right now, it's not me. No one should be, 'Me, me' -- it's us. It's a team thing. If they put me in the 'pen and feel that it would help the team, then I'm all for it. I wouldn't be uncomfortable. I've been out in the 'pen before."
Speaking of the bullpen, Troy Percival pitched an inning of scoreless relief Sunday, stating his case to be included on the Rays' postseason roster after working through a lingering back problem.
"At this point, I don't need to put any more pressure on them than they've already got," said Percival when asked about being included on the postseason roster. "They've got a decision to make. I did what I had to do. ... I don't think I'm quite where I was at the beginning of the season, but I think I'm making strides to get there."
Though Sunday felt like Rays players would be handed a box lunch as they headed for a bus ride back to St. Petersburg -- just like in Spring Training -- Tampa Bay left Comerica Park and headed toward a team charter that would carry it back to the St. Pete/Clearwater Airport. Landing at 9 p.m. ET on Sunday, the Rays will no doubt be received for the first time in the Tampa Bay area as the reigning American League East champions.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.