BOSTON -- Fifteen outs stared the Rays' bullpen in the face Sunday afternoon, and the bullpen didn't blink in leading the Rays to an 8-5 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
By winning, the Rays (85-67) took three games out of four from the Red Sox during the weekend series and moved to within two games of the American League Wild Card leaders.
The Rays won for the 11th time in their last 15 games since the Red Sox (87-65) held a nine-game lead on Sept. 2. The Rays have won eight of their last nine games from the Red Sox and claimed a 12-6 advantage during the season series.
David Price started for the Rays and the offense staked him to a 3-0 lead. Normally, that would be enough to go to the bank. Alas, with one out in the third, Mike Aviles hit a ball back at Price that ricocheted off his upper right chest. Evan Longoria fielded the ball and threw out Aviles for the second out of the inning, but the moment caused a collective gasp in the Rays' dugout.
"You saw it, it was a really scary moment," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
After getting checked out by the club's training staff, Price remained in the game and retired the final batter in the third before the Rays pushed their lead to 4-0 in the fourth. Price returned to pitch in the bottom half of the inning and immediately surrendered a single to Dustin Pedroia and a walk to David Ortiz. One out later, Darnell McDonald doubled home both to cut the Rays' lead to 4-2.
Price did not come back out for the fifth, which left five frames for the bullpen to clean up if Tampa Bay wanted to leave Boston on the right side of a two-game swing in the standings.
"Price is out and we don't know what is going to happen," veteran reliever Joel Peralta said of the situation.
Jake McGee became the first of five relievers to chip away at the 15 remaining outs and his contribution might have been the most critical to the outcome of the game. The 25-year-old left-hander looked dominating in holding the Red Sox to one run on one hit in 2 2/3 innings, striking out two in the process and leaving seven outs on the table.
"We got it [Saturday] out of Matt [Moore] and we got it today out of Jake," Maddon said. "Two young left-handers throwing with well above-average fastballs. The thing about Jake that I love is that he throws strikes. ... He was not afraid, he was not afraid of the moment. He went out there and pounded the strike zone. ... He was outstanding and he was definitely our star of the game."
McGee's manner seemed to personify the difference between the Rays and the Red Sox over the weekend. While the Red Sox resembled a balled-up fist, the Rays were adorned playfully in team letter sweaters for their train trip to New York. Talk about fantasy football dominated their conversation and generally they looked as loose as if they were preparing to play the Pirates in a Grapefruit League contest in early March.
"It was a lot of fun," said McGee of his day and the weekend series. "I love coming to the park every day, everyone has a good time, everyone is getting along. Everyone is really loose and not putting too much pressure on each other."
McGee gave way to Cesar Ramos in the seventh after Marco Scutaro singled with two outs. Jacoby Ellsbury greeted Ramos with a single and Aviles followed with a three-run homer to cut the lead to 8-5.
Aviles' blast revived the spirits of the 37,613 fans on hand Sunday, but Ramos recovered to strike out Adrian Gonzalez to end the inning.
Brandon Gomes started the eighth and retired the first two batters he faced before J.P. Howell took over to face pinch-hitter Carl Crawford, who doubled to left-center field. Peralta then came on to try to get the final four outs.
McDonald became Peralta's first victim when he popped out to end the eighth, which left three more outs for a Rays win.
Peralta, who picked up the save on Saturday, started the ninth by striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia after the count went to 3-2. Scutaro then flew out to Matt Joyce in right before Ellsbury doubled to left. Aviles then flew out to right to end the game with the always dangerous Gonzalez standing on deck.
"I just wanted to throw strikes," Peralta said. "I know Gonzalez was on deck, but for me, just a strike to get the out regardless of who was on deck. Of course, I don't want to face Gonzalez in that situation. He's the best hitter they've got. So I was trying to get Aviles, but it wasn't because Gonzalez was on deck."
Joyce provided much of Tampa Bay's offense on Sunday with three hits and three RBIs. Desmond Jennings, Johnny Damon and Sean Rodriguez each had RBIs to contribute to the effort.
Boston manager Terry Francona maintained a strong front afterward.
"I guess I choose to believe, knowing the guys down in the clubhouse like I do, we'll meet this challenge and it will make us stronger," said Francona, his team holding its slimmest lead for a playoff spot since June 30. "I guess that's our best way to go about this. We have managed to play some very inconsistent baseball."
Meanwhile, Maddon could not say enough good things about his team, which has dismantled the Red Sox for two consecutive weekends.
"I thought we played good baseball," Maddon said. "We played well. We pitched well. We caught the ball. We ran the bases well. We had good at-bats when we needed them. There was a real strong sense of camaraderie among the group. All that stuff was there. So I thought we just played really good baseball in a great venue against a very good ballclub in a very meaningful time of the year. I'm very proud of our guys."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.