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Zobrist cranks a two-run homer to left

BOSTON -- Joe Maddon did things his way Saturday and the Rays rode their manager's unconventional bent to a 4-3 win over Boston at Fenway Park.

By winning, the Rays (84-67) moved to within three games of the American League Wild Card-leading Red Sox (87-64) with one game remaining against their AL East rival and 11 games remaining in their season.

Jeff Niemann started for the Rays and got lifted after finishing the fifth even though he'd thrown just 89 pitches and the Rays led, 4-2. Normally, any starter on the team doesn't leave the game until he's exceeded the 100-pitch mark, particularly if he's only surrendered two runs to one of the best hitting lineups in the Major Leagues. But Maddon had a plan, and highly touted rookie Matt Moore figured prominently in those plans.

The 22-year-old southpaw entered the game in the sixth to pitch to the heart of the Boston order.

"I liked the part of the batting order coming up where it was all of those left-handers," Maddon explained. "[Niemann] worked pretty hard to get through that [89] pitches. If he started that next inning and got into any trouble, I was going to bring in Moore anyhow. So why not give him a clean slate?"

A week ago, Moore had just finished the season at Triple-A Durham and was preparing to go home for the winter. Flash forward to Saturday and Moore found himself smack in the middle of a playoff chase at the cathedral of baseball with 37,682 fans hoping to see him fail.

"Just tried to feel really comfortable out there and control my breathing," said Moore of the moment.

Moore's entrance to the game added excitement to the Rays' players, who, to the man, seem fascinated by the lightning created by Moore's left arm. The first two pitches he threw registered 96 and 98 mph.

"Watching him was great," veteran reliever Joel Peralta said. "First two pitches and it's like, 'Daddy's here.'"

Despite two walks, Moore managed to pitch a scoreless sixth. And after allowing singles to Carl Crawford and Mike Aviles to open the seventh, Moore again survived, surrendering just one run to make the score 4-3. He then retired the Red Sox in order in the eighth.

"He's got a really good arm," said Maddon with a sly grin. "I'm a really good scout. I saw him the other day in Baltimore for the first time and I really enjoyed just how loose and free his body and arm worked. And he brought it out there today.

"I'm sure he was amped up. I'm sure he was nervous, but he was able to fight through those moments which we all have to do, and he did. We all do that on different occasions, and he did. And to go three innings right there in those circumstances is quite a testament to his makeup."

Moore made a favorable impression on the Red Sox, too.

"He had good stuff," Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "Mixed his pitches, didn't stay with the fastball, was able to throw some offspeed pitches for strikes. This is a tough atmosphere to pitch in, and I thought he did a great job."

With regular closer Kyle Farnsworth nursing a sore right elbow, Peralta entered the game in the ninth trying to preserve the Rays' 4-3 advantage. He struck out Saltalamacchia and Crawford before Aviles singled through the middle. Pinch-runner Joey Gathright then stole second base, leaving the winning run 180 feet from home plate. But Peralta came through by getting Marco Scutaro to ground out to Evan Longoria at third to end the game.

"That felt really good," Peralta said. "Really nice. That was a great, great feeling there. Pitching with that crowd like that."

Offensively, the Rays got off to a quick start Saturday when Ben Zobrist hit a two-run homer off Jon Lester in the first inning. The homer snapped a 39-game homerless span for Zobrist, the longest single-season drought of his career. Desmond Jennings then doubled in the third and eventually scored on a wild pitch to give the Rays a 3-0 lead.

Boston answered in the bottom of the third when Aviles doubled off Niemann to score Crawford. Aviles moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Scutaro and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Jacoby Ellsbury to cut the lead to 3-2.

Longoria singled home Brandon Guyer with two outs in the fifth to give the Rays a 4-2 lead, which would prove to be enough.

"It says great things about us," said Peralta of the victory. "This was a great game, and pitching was the difference. We didn't score a bunch of runs, but we still can pull out the game."

Magnifying the Rays' win was the team's ability to bounce back after taking a tough loss Friday night.

"That our guys were able to drop something like that, last night in the trash can, and come out and play that kind of game," Maddon said. "We played two great games two nights in a row. We played well. The intensity, all that stuff, is where it needs to be. We're already playing playoff baseball now, and we're not to the playoffs yet. I think it's fantastic." Comments