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10/17/08 3:25 PM EST

Rays faithful unfazed by Game 5 loss

Fans ready to lend needed support after Thursday's dramatic fall

ST. PETERSBURG -- Sports-talk therapy.

That's what ESPN Radio 1040 and its Tampa-based hosts "The Killer B's" called the Friday morning show. And judging from the number of fans who called in to bemoan the Rays' harrowing 8-7 loss in Boston on Thursday night, the title wasn't too far off.

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The calls flooded in as fans recapped their pain when watching the Rays' potential American League pennant-clinching game slip away.

"It was a choke," one caller said, "any way you slice it."

Hundreds packed into local watering hole Ferg's Sports Bar on Thursday night and watched wordlessly as a seven-run lead dwindled in the seventh inning and the Red Sox delivered the walk-off hit in the ninth.

Several miles away, a packed St. Petersburg Pier was filled with buried heads and clenched fists in what was once a jovial scene filled with "Tampa Bay" chants.

Talk precluding the Rays' loss was about planning for the World Series. Now Tampa Bay and its fans have been forced to take a step back and focus on securing the AL Championship Series first.

"The last time I checked, we still have a 3-2 lead, and we still have two games at home," said one caller, Cody from Clearwater, Fla. "And last time I checked, we play well at home. So we will be fine. I'm not writing [the Rays] off."

That was a popular sentiment the morning after such a disappointing loss.

"This is a baseball town," said Rick Kalil, a resident of nearby Dunedin, Fla. "It's a beautiful thing, and we aren't going to stop now."

Wearing the Rays' previous green uniform, Kalil and his friends weren't just surprised by Thursday night's crowds, they were downright inspired.

"It's only a matter of time," Clearwater resident Ryan Murphy said, "before this whole area -- Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater -- becomes one Rays team."

And after Thursday's loss, fans know the Rays need that support more than ever.

"This is pretty much the best experience of my life," Brandon Gallant said.

The Mohawk-wearing St. Pete resident has been a season-ticket holder the past three years, and he plans on getting a "TB" tattoo to brand his loyalty.

"Are we going all the way? Absolutely," Gallant said.

So while the initial reaction to Thursday's loss may have been panic or despair, fans slowly began to adopt the "one loss" mantra Rays manager Joe Maddon has preached all year. One loss can't wash away their dream-like season.

"Rays loss a heartbreaker," headlined one newspaper column.

Heartbreaking? Yes. But if Thursday's loss proved anything, it is that the Tampa Bay area was still pulsating with faith in its young squad.

"It's almost like they can do no wrong," Steve Durcell said. "It's magic, absolutely magic."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.