ST. PETERSBURG — Carlos Peña played Saturday's game with a heavy heart, and inspiration.
Peña said he was crushed in the morning when he heard that one of his best friends, former Northeastern University teammate Greg Montalbano, had died Friday night after a decade-long battle with cancer.
"He was my right hand in college," Peña said. "In my mind, he was a champion."
Peña decided to dedicate Saturday's game to Montalbano, saying if he did something good, he'd make a little note and flash it to the TV cameras to honor Montalbano's memory.
Peña did a lot more than that.
Peña hit two homers and drove in the winning run with a single in the 10th inning to lift the Rays to a 5-4 win over the Rangers in front of a pumped-up Summer Concert Series crowd of 34,281. It was Peña's third walkoff hit as a Ray and the Rays' seventh this season, keeping them within three games of the Red Sox for the American League wild-card spot.
"There's no doubt in my mind, I know that divinity definitely moved in today," Peña said. "I just hope his family was watching."
It was around this time last season that Peña got hot, carrying the club with a monster August in which he racked up a club-record nine homers and tallied 29 RBIs. Manager Joe Maddon said Peña is showing signs of that again, having homered seven times in his past 14 games.
"It's great to see that guy get hot," said Matt Garza, the game's starting pitcher. "What he can do when he gets it going, it's pretty exciting."
So were the final couple of innings before Big & Rich rocked the Trop with a concert. The Rays (67-55) appeared to have this one in the bag after Pat Burrell came through with a two-out RBI double in the eighth, giving them a 4-3 lead. But J.P. Howell, who had converted 13 straight save opportunities, gave up a two-out solo homer to Marlon Byrd in the ninth. "Nobody felt worse than me, that's for sure," Howell said. "I'm just glad we came back and won it."
Garza did his part but picked up his fourth straight no-decision. Garza allowed three earned runs or fewer for the 17th time in 21 outings but still has just one win in his past nine starts (July 24 against the Blue Jays).
Garza's biggest trouble came from red-hot Michael Young, who finished a double short of the cycle with three hits and two RBIs.
"He's one of the best hitters in the game," Garza said. "I tried to change patterns, and he got me."
Peña provided a lion's share of the Rays' offense, hitting a solo homer in the second and a two-run shot in the fourth to give the Rays a 3-2 lead and him an AL-leading 34 homers. It was his 16th career multihomer game and third of the season.
Peña said Montalbano, a left-handed pitcher drafted by the Red Sox in the fifth round in 1999, always dreamed of playing in the big leagues but never did. He "always had a smile" no matter what he was going through.
Said Peña : "It just makes you realize how blessed we are."