ARLINGTON -- Hits don't come much bigger than John Jaso's RBI single in the eighth inning early Saturday night.
The catcher's hit give the Rays their first lead in three games of the American League Division Series, and they never relinquished it in a 6-3 win over the Rangers in Game 3, keeping Tampa Bay's postseason hopes alive and forcing a Game 4 on Sunday in Arlington.
"An all-around great ballgame for us," Carlos Pena said. "And we live to see another day."
A record crowd of 51,746 made for a festive atmosphere at Rangers Ballpark, where Texas first grabbed a 1-0 lead and then went up 2-1 in the seventh on a home run by Ian Kinsler that brought a roar like a cattle stampede. Most figured Tampa Bay's silent bats would remain dormant and Texas would advance to its first AL Championship Series.
Only the Rays would not go away.
Matt Garza kept his club in the game with a solid pitching performance before leaving after Kinsler's home run. The Rays' hitters then began to do something they had not done in the first two games -- delivering clutch hits.
Dan Johnson started the eighth-inning rally with a one-out double to right field off Darren Oliver. Rays manager Joe Maddon then summoned Desmond Jennings to pinch-run for Johnson. Pena, who had gone hitless in the series, followed with a single to right that tied the game at 2.
Texas manager Ron Washington brought in Darren O'Day to pitch to B.J. Upton, and the strategy paid off when O'Day struck him out swinging for the second out of the inning.
Surprisingly, Washington then brought in closer Neftali Feliz to try and get the last out.
"I had Nefti. I was going to use him on Jaso anyway," Washington said. "And in the case of O'Day, [Jason] Bartlett had good numbers against him, [and] since I was going to use Nefti anyway against Jaso, I just figured I would bring him in to get the one. He would be there in the ninth inning anyway."
Washington's strategy backfired.
Feliz walked Bartlett to move Pena to second. Jaso then singled to center field to score Pena and give the Rays a 3-2 lead.
"I guess I got aggressive up there for that at-bat," Jaso said. "Usually I'm sort of a passive hitter up there. I knew he was going to come with hard fastballs and I felt like I put some pretty healthy cuts on two fastballs before that hit. ... I think it was a missed spot with that slider. I'm just glad I was able to take advantage of it there."
The Rays were not satisfied and seemed to hunger for more runs when they batted in the ninth.
Carl Crawford led off the ninth by hitting a 3-2 pitch from Feliz into the right-field stands for a home run. Sean Rodriguez singled with one out before Pena added a two-out, two-run homer off Dustin Nippert to push the lead to 6-2.
"It definitely was [a feeling of relief]," Crawford said. "We kept telling ourselves to keep running out, keep running out, stay positive. We definitely didn't want that to be our last game.
"We started hitting and it felt better. And you can tell the guys started putting together better ABs and it happened. And hopefully we can come out and play like that tomorrow."
The Rangers took an early 1-0 lead on Saturday. Mitch Moreland doubled down the left-field line off Garza to start the Rangers' third. A passed ball by Jaso moved Moreland to third, allowing him to score on Elvis Andrus' groundout.
The Rays had scored just one run in the previous two games, which made the frustrations that occurred in the fourth and fifth appear to be indicators that Saturday would indeed be Tampa Bay's final game.
In both innings, the Rays stranded two runners without scoring a run. The fourth ended on a flyout by Pena, and the fifth ended on a strikeout by Crawford.
Upton finally got the Rays on the board with an RBI double in the sixth off Alexi Ogando that tied the game at 1. However, the inning was marred by a baserunning blunder that saw Matt Joyce round second too far on Johnson's single to right. Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz alertly threw to second base and caught Joyce trying to return to second base.
The Rays had been just five outs away from elimination when the winning rally took place.
"It's one of those things that in sports you get to experience those moments where your back is against the wall and everything seems to be going against you," Pena said. "And all the odds are against you and it's just, you know, you make this pause and all of a sudden you are able to focus on the task at hand. And I think the ballclub was able to do that today."
Maddon praised his club for its resiliency in the face of elimination.
"That's who we are, what is it, 96 wins this year?" Maddon said. "Ninety-six wins don't just happen. Ninety-six wins in our division in this league. That speaks a lot to the group.
"It's about the group and how they go about their day. And when things do go badly, they don't cave in, they don't give up and that's the part about our group that I really love."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.