The Tampa Bay Rays came into their series with the Boston Red Sox on Monday with just one win in the month of September, a 7-5 win over the Yankees. The Rays had all-star outfielder Carl Crawford on the disabled list and had just activated third baseman Evan Longoria from the DL.
As they went into the big series at Fenway, many people wondered if they would be able to finish their storybook season and win the AL East over the Red Sox who were just a one-and-a-half games back. People pointed to the team's abysmal batting average with runners in scoring position (.239), while others looked at their ability to come through in close games.
On Tuesday and Wednesday the Rays seem to have taken care of one of those two problems. Down 4-3 in the ninth inning on Tuesday, the Rays got a home run from first baseman Dan Johnson, who had just been called up from AAA earlier that day, off Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon to tie the game at four.
Three batters later, catcher Dioner Navarro hit a double to left field to score Fernando Perez from second base to give Tampa Bay the lead. Troy Percival got Coco Crisp to pop out with a runner on third to end the game and extend the Rays' lead back to one-and-a-half games.
In addition, if you thought that Tuesday's game was exciting, nobody could've been ready for what happened on Wednesday. Both teams were only able to score one run off the starters, Josh Beckett and Andy Sonnanstine, and neither Boston nor Tampa Bay had much success against the bullpens either.
In the 10th inning, with the score still tied at one, Tampa Bay reliever Chad Bradford gave up a leadoff double to Dustin Pedroia and then intentionally walked David Ortiz. In most situations this year, you probably could've counted the Rays out, especially with Kevin Youkilis stepping up to the plate. However, Bradford got the Boston first baseman to ground into a double play and then got a groundout from Jason Bay to get out of the inning.
The Red Sox had opportunities to score in both the 11th and 12th innings, but the Rays' pitching came through. With two out in the top of the 14th inning, the Rays got two singles from Akinori Iwamura and Rocco Baldelli to bring first baseman Carlos Pena to the plate.
Pena took the 1-0 pitch from Mike Timlin over the Green Monster into the left centerfield stands to give the Rays a 4-1 lead. However, it wasn't quite over yet, closer Troy Percival gave up a double to Jacoby Ellsbury and then walked Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz to load the bases, once again giving Kevin Youkilis the chance to be the hero.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon brought in Jason Hammel to relieve Percival and gave up a sacrifice fly to Youkilis, but then got the next two hitters out to give the Tampa Bay Rays a 4-1 and a two-and-a-half game lead in the American League East as we head down the home stretch for the 2008 season.
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