How sweep it is! Rays unravel Sox
Six-run rally in seventh extends lead in American League East
ST. PETERSBURG -- Having acquired a taste for steak, the Rays weren't content to settle for meat loaf on Wednesday night, when they beat the Red Sox, 7-6, to sweep the three-game series.
"Meatloafing" is a good thing for a team, according to manager Joe Maddon, who likes to reference the old Meat Loaf lyric proclaiming "two out of three ain't bad."
But after taking the first two games from the Red Sox, the Rays overcame a three-run deficit in the third game with a six-run seventh inning. During that inning, the Rays sent 11 hitters to the plate while a raucous sellout crowd of 36,048 drowned out the collective voice of a traveling Red Sox Nation like never before at Tropicana Field.
Sweeping the Red Sox "reaffirms to us that we can beat these guys," Maddon said. "Now we need to do it at Fenway."
Completing the sweep gave the home team 13 consecutive wins in the budding rivalry, which will not resume again until Sept. 8, in Boston.
"They took it to us, they beat us three games in a row," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, whose team has now dropped five straight. "We came here to win. We didn't do a very good job."
The Rays are now 33-13 at Tropicana Field and 29-6 since April 22. After their seventh series sweep of the season, they have a record of 52-32 and find themselves just 14 games away from last season's win total.
Less than two weeks have passed since the Rays rallied in the third and final game of a sweep against the Cubs with a seven-run seventh. Jason Bartlett ignited Wednesday night's rally with a leadoff double against Manny Delcarmen. After stealing second, Bartlett scored on Akinori Iwamura's infield hit to cut Boston's lead to 4-2. Carl Crawford singled to right field to send Iwamura to third and chase Delcarmen.
Craig Hansen entered the game for the Red Sox and promptly walked B.J. Upton to load the bases before walking Carlos Pena to send home Iwamura. Evan Longoria then doubled home two to give the Rays a 5-4 lead and prompt Francona to make another call to the bullpen, this time for right-hander David Aardsma.
"I was looking for what I got," Longoria said. "A ball up over the plate, and that's what I got. The guys don't make too many mistakes in this league, and when they do, you have to do that."
Willy Aybar grounded out to first for the first out of the inning, then Dioner Navarro walked to once again load the bases. Reliever Javier Lopez entered the game and struck out pinch-hitter Gabe Gross, but he couldn't get past Bartlett, who singled home two more runs to put the Rays up 7-4.
"We've got a lot of weapons on this team, and we really don't just slug," Longoria said. "We're not going to hit a ton of home runs in an inning to come back, but we've got speed and a good balance of power. And it just happens that way when you have that combination."
When you're playing the Red Sox, the ninth inning normally determines whether you're eating steak or meat loaf, and the Red Sox made the stomachs of Rays fans churn as they waited to see if the Rays could get the final three outs before the sand ran out of the hourglass and a two-run lead expired.
Manny Ramirez hit a ball to Bartlett to start the ninth, but the shortstop threw wild to first. Mike Lowell followed with a single to put runners on the corners with no outs. That's when Kevin Youkilis hit a drive to deep center field off reliever Dan Wheeler.
Upton gave chase in center field, running down the drive at the wall to make an over-the-shoulder catch that Maddon called "Willie Mays-esque" for the much-needed first out.
"I just knew I had to get it, that was the only thing on my mind," Upton said.
Ramirez scored on the play to cut the Rays' lead to one run.
Then Jason Varitek stepped to the plate. The catcher is in the middle of the worst slump of his career, which might have explained why Francona put on a hit and run. But the strategy backfired, as Navarro threw out Lowell when Varitek swung and missed for strike two.
With the second out in his back pocket and the bases empty, Wheeler finished the job by catching Boston's captain looking at strike three to end the game.
Tropicana Field then exploded, as fans waved brooms and dreamed of October. For Wheeler, who was with the Rays when the team lost in front of sparse crowds, the contrast between then and now is striking.
"There's no comparison, it's unbelievable," Wheeler said. "The thing I liked so much is you're still going to get the Red Sox fans, and that's OK. But I think our fans are starting to come out, and they're starting to drown those fans out, which makes it more exciting."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.