CLEVELAND -- Practice makes perfect and the Rays practiced celebrating 92 times this season -- after every win.
But Wednesday night's postgame celebration was different than their regular-season ritual following wins. This time the players really let go, because for the first time in over a month, they could finally exhale.
Champagne and beer were sprayed in every direction inside the visiting clubhouse while the seasoned members of the group fended off eye shots by employing fancy goggles. After winning the one-and-done American League Wild Card Game against Cleveland, 4-0, the Rays knew they would not be waking up Thursday morning facing the prospect of elimination as they head to Boston for the first game of their best-of-five Division Series against the Red Sox Friday at 3 p.m. ET on TBS.
And that felt good.
Not facing elimination "will be a little bit nice," Ben Zobrist said. "At the same time, I think our team has thrived in that situation. We want to take that same urgency into Friday. Regardless of the fact that it's not a win or lose or go home, it's really important for us to stay in the same kind of urgency we've had the last couple of days. I think we've done really well with it."
Once the game concluded with Fernando Rodney on the mound, the Rays' closer aimed one of his famed arrows toward the sky. A noted marksman of the faux arrow, Rodney noted that the one he fired on Wednesday night had a special target.
"Going right to Massachusetts, Boston," said Rodney, sporting a pair of goggles and soaked with champagne. "Make sure to send a message to them that we're going to be there."
At first, they celebrated on the field in the pallor of Progressive Field while disappointed Indians fans heading for the exits. Then, the Rays took the celebration into the clubhouse where loud music blared and the lights remained off.
At one point, drenched first-base coach George Hendrick escaped the scene, noting that he did not plan to return to the fray. Hearing Hendrick's plan, third-base coach Tom Foley, who was equally soaked, borrowed Hendrick's goggles and headed back to the party.
Rodney could be seen doing a dance in the trainer's room while a group of players led by David Price, made their way to the door of the clubhouse where they waited with opened bottles of champagne for winning pitcher Alex Cobb to return from the interview room.
When the unsuspecting Cobb finally walked through the door, he got ambushed in a fashion that brought to mind Sonny Corleone at the toll booth.
Behind the fun, the sense of relief in the room was palpable in having a moment where they don't have to think about elimination. Then again, facing said situation hasn't necessarily been a bad thing for the Rays.
"We've faced two and we've won two," said Desmond Jennings, who had a huge two-run double on Wednesday night. "We're going to treat the first game in Boston like it's elimination game and go out and try and win it."
Zobrist noted how the team has survived "through some tough days" to earn the right to play the Red Sox.
"And we've gotten ourselves right back in position where we want to be," Zobrist said. "The Red Sox and the Rays, we know each other pretty well. They know what they're up against and we know what we're up against. It's just going to come down to performances like Alex's. That kind of performance is what wins games."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less