ST. PETERSBURG -- In order to have any kind of chance to make a run for the playoffs, the Rays can ill afford to lose -- particularly to the American League Wild Card-leading Red Sox.
On Friday night, the Rays did what they needed to, taking a 7-2 win over the Red Sox in the first contest of a three-game weekend series at Tropicana Field with 18,487 watching.
By winning, Tampa Bay crept to within 5 1/2 games of Boston in the AL Wild Card race to move to 79-64 on the season. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have lost five of their last six games and eight of their last 11.
Wade Davis started for the Rays and led the way, which might have surprised a lot of people given the way the right-hander had fared against the Red Sox in the past. Entering Friday night's game, he was 0-2 with an 11.12 ERA in three career starts.
Manager Joe Maddon is a proponent of the philosophy that the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing and expect a different outcome. Well, Davis must have listened to Maddon, because rather than go with the same old repertoire against his nemesis, he unveiled something new Friday night.
"It's actually the first time I've ever really started throwing a cutter," Davis said. "I've always thrown a slider, and we just straightened it out and flattened it out a little to stay in the strike zone more. It ended up being pretty effective."
Davis said he threw a few cutters in the bullpen "the other day" and decided to "just ride on it" in the game to try something a little different, because he hadn't had too much success against the Red Sox in the past.
"It was pretty gutsy," said catcher John Jaso about Davis' decision to use the pitch for the first time against a lineup like Boston's. "He's been working on it and stuff. With their lineup, a lot of guys in their lineup can do some damage to you.
"I think that cutter's a great pitch -- especially against a team like that. It keeps people honest and it doesn't allow them to start leaning and looking out over the plate. And it was great to do it, to have that kind of confidence."
Boston manager Terry Francona allowed that Davis had "a really good cutter."
"He's got that plane on the ball because he's tall and throws it downhill," Francona said. "He threw it outside, inside and just ate us up."
Davis held the Red Sox to two runs on six hits in a complete-game effort to pick up his 10th win. Four of the Rays' five starters now have double digit wins for the season, and the complete game gave Tampa Bay starters a team record 16 complete games this season.
Momentum swung in the Rays' direction in the second, and they never looked back.
The positive vibes began in the top half of the inning when Davis struck out David Ortiz, and Jaso threw a strike to shortstop Reid Brignac covering second base to nail a stealing Dustin Pedroia and complete a double play.
"That's big, that really takes momentum away," Maddon said. "That goes from either ball four and first and second or it goes to what it does, two outs and nobody on. It was a huge play. That really, obviously, changes everything. If Papi gets a hit, hits a ball to the gap, they score a run. The punch-out, throw-em-out was huge. And actually, it was a really good play by Brignac on the backside. Great tag."
Jaso added to the momentum in the bottom half of the inning when he hit a two-out, three-run homer off Red sox starter John Lackey to give the Rays a 3-0 lead.
"I was looking for the ball out of his hand, looking hard for the ball out of his hand and it was just good to have a little power surge right there," Jaso said.
Tampa Bay added two more in the third after two outs when Johnny Damon beat out an infield single that allowed Evan Longoria to score from second, and Matt Joyce drove home another. Jaso made the final out of the inning when he hit a shot back to the mound that ricocheted off Lackey's left calf. Lackey recovered in time to throw out Jaso at first for the final out of the third.
"I squared that one up," Jaso said. "That was right off the barrel. I saw it hit him, but I put my head down and ran. He made a great play on that. I went back and looked at it on replay and he made a great play."
Lackey did not come back out to pitch in the fourth due to a left leg bruise.
Boston scored two in the sixth on an RBI single by Jacoby Ellsbury and a sacrifice fly by Marco Scutaro. But Tampa Bay answered by scoring two in the bottom half of the inning via RBI doubles by Brignac and Longoria to give the Rays another five-run cushion.
With 19 games remaining, the odds look remote that Tampa Bay can make the playoffs, but just don't tell that to the Rays.
"We do believe. You could sense that from our guys today," Maddon said. "Our guys wanted to play this game tonight. We were ready to play this game tonight. Probably there's going to be skeptics, and I understand that. 'It's one win, OK. Show me tomorrow.'
"So we have to show them tomorrow again. Show them that it's real. And we mean this. And we're going to get this done. But it had to start tonight. And I think we came out and played our style of baseball tonight, and I was very proud of it."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.