BOSTON -- A broken-bat single got the karma moving in the Rays' direction Thursday night in a 9-2 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
By winning, Tampa Bay (83-66) whittled Boston's (86-63) lead for the American League Wild Card spot to three games. While doing so, the Rays took their sixth consecutive game against the Red Sox while moving to 10-5 on the season against their AL East rivals.
"It's one game, one game, and it's great to get the first one like we did," manager Joe Maddon said. "And we can move to tomorrow, but it's about Friday night now. Tonight was about Thursday. Tomorrow's about Friday. Let's win tomorrow night's game and move on from there."
Tampa Bay has 13 games remaining in the season, including three against the Red Sox. On Friday night, that will mean a date with Red Sox ace Josh Beckett.
"We know what we're up against," Johnny Damon said. "Beckett's throwing against us, so we just have to keep going out there and putting the pressure on them."
Tampa Bay is 9-5 in September -- a month in which it has never had a winning record. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have lost seven of their last eight games and nine of their last 11.
"We have to be confident going out there," Damon said. "If we surrender a couple of games to them, it just puts us in a deeper hole. But the fortunate thing about it -- and I don't like the unbalanced schedule, but in this situation, if we do beat these teams, we have a good chance of going [to the playoffs]. Obviously it depends on what the Angels do also. We definitely still have an uphill climb."
The Rays scored first when B.J. Upton got sawed off by a Kyle Weiland offering with two outs in the third. Upton's bat broke in half, resulting in a grounder to short, which normally would have been converted into the third out of the inning. Fortunately for Tampa Bay, the top part of Upton's bat zeroed in on Marco Scutaro as if the Red Sox shortstop was the head pin. Scutaro had no choice but to leapfrog the bat, and when he did, the ball rolled safely into left field for an RBI single.
"That is definitely a first for me," said Upton of the odd play, "but I'll take it. Enough things haven't gone our way this year, so I think we're going to take that."
Added Maddon: "You're always looking for signs. Looking for signs, man, from that baseball heaven, the baseball gods, they've got to throw you a sign once in a while. They've got to give you something to further believe."
Evan Longoria followed with his 27th home run, a three-run shot that cleared the Red Sox's bullpen wall in right-center field to give the Rays a 4-0 lead.
Boston answered in the bottom half of the inning when Adrian Gonzalez drove home Jarrod Saltalamacchia with a bases-loaded ground out to first to cut Tampa Bay's lead to 4-1.
But the Rays' offense continued to produce.
Casey Kotchman connected off Franklin Morales for a two-run homer in the sixth, giving Kotchman 10 for the season while pushing the Rays' lead to 6-1. Upton added a two-run homer in the seventh off Matt Albers to make it an 8-1 game.
Jeremy Hellickson started for the Rays and held the Red Sox to one run on three hits over 5 2/3 innings to pick up his 13th win.
"I always tell you guys that good pitching will shut down any kind of offense," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "Those guys' pitching, there's no fear. You know what I'm saying? When you go down to the scouting report, I'm pretty sure those guys change everybody's scouting report.
"You don't watch them being stable with one thing. They go to everything any time, any situation, and the most impressive thing about [it] is [that] they know how to spot their pitches."
Hellickson said he lacked fastball command throughout his outing, which forced him to rely on his changeup earlier than he hoped. But he got the job done. He even managed to show a little emotion when he escaped a bases-loaded jam to end the third. The normally emotionless Iowa native uncharacteristically smacked the palm of his glove then spiked his gum to the turf en route to the visitors' dugout.
"It was a big game, big inning there, too," Hellickson said. "We get four in the top half and you want a shut-down inning, and I was pretty excited to leave the bases loaded right there."
When pressed, Maddon came up empty for an explanation about the Rays' success against the Red Sox this season.
"Honestly, I was asked that before the game," Maddon said. "I have no tremendous revelations or understanding. I know we get jacked up to play these guys. Our pitching is good. I don't know. Maybe it's a higher level of execution against these guys. ... I've never sat there and tried to break it down, but our guys have pitched really well against them this year, but I don't have a specific reason why."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.