09/16/08 11:51 PM ET
One night down, the next game up
Rays own AL East lead after Navarro delivers walk-off win
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
A night after taking an ugly 13-5 loss to the World Series champions, the Rays played beautifully in a 2-1 win over the same Red Sox in front of a crowd of 32,079 on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.
"I believe in these guys, and I believe they believe," manager Joe Maddon said. "And that matters. If you have that inner resolve and faith among the group, you can rebound from negative moments. And if you don't have that, then you can not.
"We've done it several times this year, and I have all the faith in the world in those guys in that room out there. I believe."
The win gave the Rays (89-60) a one-game lead in the American League East over the second-place Red Sox (89-62), with one contest remaining between the two clubs on Wednesday.
Talk about taking a licking and coming back ticking, Timex has nothing on the Rays, who earned their 11th walk-off win of the season when Dioner Navarro drilled a one-out single to deep center field, producing a mob scene on the infield.
"It's been like that through the whole season for us," Navarro said. "Every time we get a tough loss, we come back the next day and we do the best."
If anything, fate seemed to be the only explanation for Tuesday night's win, which came down to the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at 1. Yes, Navarro's hit won it, but the progression to the winning hit hinted at something grander.
Jason Bartlett led off the inning with a bloop single that dropped into right field to bring up Carlos Pena, who had tied the game in the seventh inning when he deposited his 29th home run of the season into the left-field stands.
Facing a count of 1-1, Pena took a mighty rip at a Justin Masterson fastball for what appeared to be strike two. But right after the swing, a baseball rolled from the bullpen in left to the infield. And just like that, Rays third-base coach Tom Foley was waving his arms and having a discussion with third-base umpire Jerry Meals.
"The ball came out and he didn't see it, and I said, 'Hey! Hey! Hey!'" Foley said. "And he looked, and then he called timeout and then the pitch was thrown. And then he said, 'Timeout.'" And I thought he was going to tell me the pitch had already been thrown. I didn't really understand. But [crew chief] Jerry [Crawford] right away said [timeout was called]."
Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek concurred with the call.
"They did call time on the 1-1 pitch," said Varitek. "I heard it from where I was."
Pena appreciated the gift.
"I was like, 'Thank the Lord!' -- it was cool," Pena said. "I was really happy with that. I was like, 'All right!'"
The count went to 3-2 before Pena took an inside pitch for ball four to bring Cliff Floyd to the plate. The Rays designated hitter fell behind, 0-2, when Masterson came inside and hit Floyd on his right leg to load the bases.
Evan Longoria then looked at strike three to bring up Navarro, who looked bad swinging at a slider for strike two before hitting the game-winner to center on a 2-2 pitch.
"I was just trying to make something happen," Navarro said. "I was trying to hit the ball up the middle and make something happen, and I'm glad I hit it hard enough for the run to score."
Early on, the game focused on a pitching rematch between Boston ace Josh Beckett and Rays right-hander Andy Sonnanstine. The two faced off last Wednesday at Fenway Park and each allowed one run -- Sonnanstine pitching seven innings and Beckett six -- in a game eventually won by the Rays, 4-2, in 14 innings.
And Tuesday's rematch saw both pitchers again pitch to a 1-1 draw, with Beckett allowing one run in eight innings and Sonnanstine giving up one in six. Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell and Dan Wheeler successfully followed Sonnanstine to keep the Red Sox from going ahead, despite a legitimate threat in the eighth and ninth innings.
Jacoby Ellsbury's infield hit with one out in the eighth looked like trouble for the Rays, but when the speedy Red Sox outfielder tried to steal second, Navarro delivered a strike that Akinori Iwamura caught on top of Ellsbury's shoe for the second out of the inning.
"I think that was the first time I threw Ellsbury out," Navarro said. "He flies, man, you know. So I knew I needed to make a perfect throw and that's what I did. I didn't try to rush myself and make a good throw, and the thing went [on target]."
In the final frame, the Red Sox had runners on first and second with two outs when Wheeler took over for Howell and struck out Jed Lowrie to end the threat.
"Yeah, you know, what we talk a lot about [is] momentum, and we are looking for the shift of momentum, and I thought things started going our way a little bit toward the end of the game," Pena said. "And it's huge in baseball. You see how rallies start and things start developing and it's like synergy."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.