Rays 3, Red Sox 1

Knuckle sandwich

Red Sox - now 2 1/2 back - drop another tough one to feisty Rays

Wild night

Two wild pitches by Tim Wakefield led to two Tampa Bay runs as the Rays topped the Red Sox, 3-1, Tuesday night. Boston catcher Kevin Cash talks about the loss.
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / July 2, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - A man claiming to be a Red Sox fan called a Tampa area radio station yesterday morning, complaining about the rude behavior he'd encountered the night before at Tropicana Field. Rays fans took one look at the Dustin Pedroia jersey he was wearing, the man said, and taunted him when the Sox lost. Oh, the humanity.

The show's hosts, naturally, were dumbfounded. Excuse me? After years of Sox fans setting up housekeeping in The Trop when their heroes were in town, they now had the nerve to gripe when it was their hearts being stomped on?

The devil is gone in these Rays, and so is the sympathy. And given the way the Rays pushed the Sox to the limit again last night, those Sox fans planning to attend tonight's series finale are advised to bring along a stiff upper lip.

The opportunistic Rays, who spun gold out of ordinary walks Monday night, last night worked some more alchemy to beat the Sox, 3-1, using another walk, an error, a comebacker and two wild pitches by Tim Wakefield to score their first two runs. A two-out RBI single by Dioner Navarro, his second of the night, off Manny Delcarmen in the eighth after Craig Hansen issued two walks, was the night's final indignity for the Sox, who now trail the Rays by 2 1/2 games in the American League East and are assured of being in second place when they leave for New York following tonight's game.

"When you're playing a hot team like that, you can't make mistakes like that - they're going to make the most of it and they did," said Sox catcher Kevin Cash, who grew up in north Tampa, spent two seasons in the Rays' system, and has never seen the likes of what he's witnessed the last two nights, an other crowd of 30,000-plus (31,112) giving it up for a team that has known only losing in its first miserable decade of existence.

"It wasn't like this when I was here," said Cash, who appeared in 13 games for the Rays in 2005 and never made it out of Triple A the following season.

"But they deserve it. They're playing good ball. I played with a lot of these guys in Triple A, and you can see they have a lot more confidence and they've been here long enough to know they can win."

Last month's brawl with the Rays may have caught up with the Sox, too. With Coco Crisp serving his five-game suspension, Terry Francona sent slump-ridden Jason Varitek to pinch hit to start the eighth. His first choice was Sean Casey, but when Rays manager Joe Maddon replaced starter Matt Garza with lefthander J.P. Howell, Francona opted for Varitek, figuring his best chance to hit would be from the right side. The switch hitting Crisp would have been an obvious alternative, and Francona wouldn't have had to burn Casey.

"We were in a little bind a player short," said Francona, who expected Maddon would lift Garza for Howell when Casey was announced.

Howell required just three pitches to strike out Varitek. He misplayed Jacoby Ellsbury's bunt and walked Pedroia, but he whiffed J.D. Drew on three pitches, too.

Maddon, meanwhile, has yet to have a move backfire in two nights. He brought in righthander Grant Balfour to face Manny Ramírez, who walked to load the bases, but Balfour induced Mike Lowell to roll out to short to end the eighth.

Balfour then struck out Kevin Youkilis and Brandon Moss to start the ninth, gave up an opposite-field double to Alex Cora, then put away Varitek with another three-pitch punchout.

"I absolutely stunk, there's no two ways about it," said Varitek, who endured the worst June of his career (.122), is hitless in 13 at-bats, and 3 for 34 in his last 14 games. "I'll have to find a way, it's got to be me."

Ramírez also is in the midst of a prolonged dry spell (10 for 54, .185, in his last 16 games), which he may be finding more difficult to ignore than his shoving incident with team traveling secretary Jack McCormick. Ramírez, who has more home runs in the Trop (25) than any visiting player, has hit one ball out of the infield in two nights, and whiffed three times last night. He also fouled out twice to first baseman Carlos Pena.

Pressing? "I see some good power arms getting the ball in late and deep on him," Francona said, saluting Garza and Balfour. "They elevated some balls very well. Manny lets the ball get deep, but they made some good pitches."

The Rays scored in the first when Carl Crawford walked, took second on an infield out, advanced to third when Cora bobbled Pena's grounder in an overshifted defense, and scored when Wakefield's next pitch skittered past Cash. They scored their next run in the fourth when prize rookie Evan Longoria, who didn't have to do much more than button his jersey before the Rays gave him a six-year deal that could be worth as much as $40 million, beat out an infield hit that Wakefield knocked down but couldn't field cleanly. Cliff Floyd struck out for the second out, but while pitching to Navarro, Wakefield uncorked another wild pitch (Cash said he should have been charged with a passed ball) and Navarro followed by lining a base hit to right, Longoria scoring easily.

"A good piece of hitting," Cash said. "The pitch was a lot like the one I missed. It started in the middle of the plate, it broke away and he went with it."

The Sox also benefited from an error to score their only run. In the fourth, rookie Jacoby Ellsbury, who had two infield hits and reached on an error, hit a tapper in front of the plate that was fielded by catcher Navarro, whose hurried throw flew past Pena into right field, Ellsbury bolting all the way to third. Drew's sacrifice fly brought him home, but the tie did not survive through the inning.

The rest of the night, the Sox spent squandering one chance after another. Ellsbury beat out an infield hit to short and got a free base when Jason Bartlett's hurried throw sailed over Pena's head. Pedroia then blooped a single in front of left fielder Crawford, the outfielder short-hopping the ball and keeping Ellsbury anchored on second. Garza broke Drew's bat on a pop to first, then set down Ramírez on a little foul fly to first.

Moss lined a two-out single in the seventh, but wonderboy Longoria made a diving stop at third of Cora's smash and threw him out from his knees, an electrifying play that ended the inning.

"It could have been a game-saving play," Francona said.

It was that kind of night for the Rays, one fit for gloating. Get used to it.

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