ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The goal is to play the final game of the season and win, so the Tampa Bay Rays fell short again.
Manager Joe Maddon finds it laughable, though, that anyone would suggest that finishing with 90-plus victories four consecutive years without making it to the World Series might be getting old.
''Of course you want to win the final prize, there no question about that,'' said Maddon, whose team was eliminated from the AL division series in four games by the Boston Red Sox.
''In the latter part of the season, in short series, sometimes the matchups are tough and sometimes they just don't roll your way,'' Maddon added. ''But I really hope and believe that the people in the Tampa Bay area would not frown upon 90-plus wins on an annual basis, and a bunch of guys that come out and play with the kind of zeal our guys do on a nightly basis.''
Despite having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, the budget-minded Rays won 92 games, including a Game 163 tie-breaker to earn a playoff berth for the fourth time in six seasons.
The only team to win more games than Tampa Bay over the past six seasons is the New York Yankees, quite an accomplishment for a franchise that was a perennial 100-game loser for the first decade of its existence.
Once again, the Rays simply couldn't muster enough offense to advance. It was the same challenge they faced in losses to Texas in two other ALDS appearances since Tampa Bay's surprising run to the 2008 World Series.
Built to win with pitching and defense, nine pitchers - a postseason record for a nine-inning game - combined to hold Boston to three six hits in a 3-1 loss that ended Tampa Bay's season on Tuesday night. The game ended with ace David Price - the only remaining available pitcher warming up in the bullpen for a possible 10th inning.
It could have been the last time Price will be seen in a Rays uniform at Tropicana Field.
The 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner and three-time All-Star is two years away from free agency, but he's in line for a significant raise after earning just over $10 million this season.
The Rays began this season with a payroll of $58 million and could decide they can't afford to keep him.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman traded pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City last winter in a deal that brought rookie Wil Meyers and other prospects to Tampa Bay. Price, who lost Game 2 of the ALDS after going 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA this season, could be traded, too.
''We don't comment on what if's,'' Friedman said. ''It's easy to talk about what he means to this organization, what he's done for it and the success that we've had that's he a very large part of.''
Still, the prospect of losing Price is unsettling.
''I've given it a lot of thought. So has he,'' right-hander Alex Cobb said. ''It's a sad thought, it really is because this group has gotten so close and David is really our go-to leader, are go-to guy that we look for direction.
''I know it's been a thought in all of our minds this year, that it could be our last year together. It's been tough at times to think of that. ... You're going to be taking a huge chunk out of this rotation. Nobody can replace a Cy Young.''
All-Star Matt Moore won 17 games and Cobb is 18-4 - the second best record in baseball - since August 2012. There are questions how important Price is to a pitching staff that posted the lowest opponents' batting average for the fourth straight year while allowing five or fewer hits a major league-leading 46 times - the most in the AL in 41 years.
The staff also allowed one run or less a club-record 39 times. That was the most in the AL since 2005.
''It's never an inviting thought to think that David is not going to be with you, but we're faced with a lot of this stuff on an annual basis.'' Maddon said. ''We've gone through it. It's part of who we are here. We understand that.''
Regardless of what happens, the Rays will report to spring training with expectations for continued success.
''It's just tough to come to grips with the fact we have been (to the playoffs) four times and haven't reached the ultimate,'' third baseman Evan Longoria said. ''But in retrospect, I think we're all happy with the opportunity that we've gotten.''
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