ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays know it isn't always going to be this easy, what with a Red Sox roster decimated by injuries, so they made sure to have fun while it lasted.
Wednesday's 6-4 win completed a three-game sweep of the sagging Sox, giving the Rays a further boost of confidence and a 2½-game margin for second place in the American League East and, if you're thinking this way, the wild-card playoff spot.
"It was huge," said David Price, who started the game and earned his AL-leading 12th win. "Obviously a sweep against anybody is big, but when it comes against a league rival, it's even bigger."
"I said when we came in that this series is huge, it's going to separate us," added Matt Garza, who finished the game and earned his first professional save. "We came in, they're a little beat up, so we had to take advantage. And it was a great time to take advantage of it."
With the Rays winning their fifth straight, and seventh in their past eight games, to improve to 51-33, manager Joe Maddon cited a return to their "formulaic" method of success: strong starting pitching, quality relief work, dazzling defense and just enough clutch hitting.
For the most part, that was the case Wednesday before 24,356 at Tropicana Field, with Price leading the way, relying primarily on a dynamic fastball to work into the eighth and striking out 10, and Evan Longoria sparking the offense with a massive blast off the D-ring catwalk, ending a career-long homer drought that stretched to June 15, a span of 19 games and 78 at-bats.
"Yeah, finally," Longoria said. "I mean, it's not something that really weighs on my mind. I felt I was still doing a decent job driving in runs, you know, just not that way. But yeah, anytime you hit a home run it's a good feeling."
Even more impressive in perspective, given an estimated measurement of 442 feet, making it the second longest at the Trop this season.
"That ball was far," Maddon said. "It might have hit the back wall had it not hit something, one of our famous catwalks."
What didn't follow the formula was Garza getting the final out. But with closer Rafael Soriano and setup man Joaquin Benoit needing a day off, Garza, who threw 84 pitches in an abbreviated start Monday, willingly accepted the assignment. And, after a little drama when he allowed a two-out RBI double to Darnell McDonald then walked David Ortiz, he retired Kevin Youkilis to pick up his first professional save.
"The way Dave was pitching … there was no way in hell I was going to give that up," Garza said.
The Rays swept the Red Sox at the Trop for the first time since the middle of their 2008 championship season and reversed what the Sox did to them on their late-May visit this year.
"They're wounded right now, and you really do want to be able to take advantage of that moment right now," Maddon said. "Psychologically, from their perspective, had they been able to do better during this time, it probably would have bolstered them a bit. But, nevertheless, they also are solaced by the fact that they aren't at full strength and they lost three games.
"So there's all these different ways to look at it. It's always a rationalization process. But from our perspective they weren't at full strength, and to be able to win these three games was very important in that regard."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.