ST. PETERSBURG — Sean Rodriguez's eighth-inning foul popup that broke a stadium light and sent glass cascading onto the field was a sign it was going to be an unusual game Sunday that featured all zeroes until after 1:30 a.m.
So too was a wild 11th inning featuring three ejections that left the Rays operating, manager Joe Maddon said later, by "Politburo." Maddon was tossed during a pitching change as he continued to complain about a call, a red-clad fan for running onto the field, and Rays bench coach Dave Martinez for objecting to Marco Scutaro's dangerous bat fling after making the third out after the Sox loaded the bases on walks.
But that was all just the preamble for what was left of the Tropicana Field crowd of 21,504 and ESPN's national TV audience, as the Sox finally scored in the 16th inning to deal the Rays a cruel and frustrating 1-0 defeat.
"Probably the toughest loss of the year,'' Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton said.
"This one hurts,'' added DH Johnny Damon. "We definitely thought we were going to win this game.''
Dustin Pedroia's two-out single brought in Josh Reddick with the game's only run, after the Sox stranded 17. "Nobody holds us down for 16 innings,'' Sox manager Terry Francona cracked.
The rally, as it were, started when Adam Russell, the ninth Rays pitcher, walked Reddick to open the inning. Reddick went to second on a bunt, and third on an infield bouncer that got by shortstop Reid Brignac. After a fly out, Pedroia took an outside fastball to rightfield.
"Anytime you have a leadoff walk it's a recipe for disaster,'' Russell said. "It just can't happen. That late in the game, no.''
The Rays went quietly in the 16th against Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, Rodriguez striking out, Kelly Shoppach grounding out and Brignac grounding out to end it at 1:54 a.m.
At 5 hours, 44 minutes, it was the longest game in Rays history timewise, and matched the longest by innings. It also was the latest they ever played, surpassing Game 2 of 2008 ALCS, which ended at 1:35 a.m.
The loss dropped the Rays (50-43) a season-high seven games out of first and, increasingly more important, 5 ½ behind the wild-card leading Yankees, against whom they open a four-game series tonight that could impact not only their postseason hopes but their trade deadline plans.
It also forced them to reshuffle their roster. Catcher Jose Lobaton, in his first start, sprained his left knee and ended up on the disabled list, with Robinson Chirinos summoned to make his big-league debut. The Rays already planned to send down one reliever (Brandon Gomes was headed to Durham) to make room for starter Alex Cobb and were discussing a second move to add a fresh arm to the bullpen.
The game produced several remarkable statistical accomplishments, starting with this one: The Rays managed just three his, the fewest by any team, going back to 1919 anyway, that played 16 or more innings. Also, they had as many in their 50 at-bats as Pedroia had in seven.
On a related note, in their 16 innings the Rays didn't get a runner to third base, and only three to second. Also, the Rays walked 12 (including the bases loaded in the 11th) and only the last one scored. And they used a team-record tying nine pitchers, with Tuesday starter Jeremy Hellickson the next in line.
Maddon insisted despite the futility and frustration there was a positive to be taken.
"I just loved the way we played. We battled so hard for so long,'' Maddon said. "That's also in some way a character builder. I really believe how we bounce after that is going to be more important. It's never fun to lose a game like that, you utilize a lot of pitchers and a lot of emotion. But I'm really proud of how our boys handled tonight. ...
"My takeaway is that we can beat the Red Sox, and they know it. My takeaway from the 1-0 loss to the Yankees the other day is that we can beat the Yankees, and they know it. We're not going away. It's just a temporary inconvenience right now.''
For eight innings Sunday night, the story was the pitchers duel between the Rays' Jeff Niemann and Boston's Josh Beckett.
But by the end it was a battle of bullpens and attrition. The Sox loaded the bases in the ninth and the 11th, and had two on in the 10th, but each time the Rays wriggled out of trouble. The Rays had prime chances in the ninth and the 11th, when Rodriguez got to second with one out.
Niemann allowed only two hits, a first-inning single by Adrian Gonzalez through the infield shift and a fourth-inning single to left by Pedroia, and two walks while striking out a career-high 10. He followed his second walk with his biggest out, striking out Jacoby Ellsbury with a man on to end the eighth on his career-high-tying 118th pitch.
"Jeff Niemann was outstanding,'' Maddon said.
Beckett, who threw a one-infield-hit complete game at the Rays in June, was even better, allowing only baserunner. Evan Longoria reached in the first on an infield single that caromed off Beckett's foot, but the Sox pitcher then retired 22 in a row, punctuating his final out by punching the air after striking out Rodriguez.
Both teams made dazzling defensive plays, topped by Sox leftfielder Josh Reddick's leaping grab at the wall to rob Justin Ruggiano of at least a double to end the 10th. Then Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton made a running and leaping catch to deny Pedroia of extra bases to open the 15th.
Maddon's ejection appeared to be a continuation of his objection to a check-swing call during Josh Reddick's at-bat, which ended in a strikeout. "There was definitely a point to be made at that time,'' he said.
Martinez's came after a valid complaint as Scutaro violently threw his bat after popping up for the final out with the bases loaded, and it landed very close to where catcher Kelly Shoppach was making catch. "I'm not going to let that happen,'' Martinez said. "I thought it was (intentional). By looking at it, as soon as I saw the reaction, I said, 'He threw it right at him.' I said some things to (home plate umpire Chad Fairchild) I shouldn't have said, but still, he wasn't going to do anything about it, what am I supposed to do?"
Third-base coach Tom Foley and pitching coach Jim Hickey were next in the chain of command at that point, but Maddon said: "We were going Politburo at that point. I've always enjoyed that word from my Tom Clancy novels. So we went straight Politburo.''
As extraordinary as the game was, the bottom line, when all 480 pitches were thrown, was rather familiar: The Rays needs to do better offensively.
"The pitching can do it,'' Maddon said. "The defense can do it. The absolute competitive nature can do it. There's a lot of intangibles that can do it. We've got to be able to put together a run or two now and then to permit us to get over the top.
"But the takeaway for me, and I would believe for the opposition, is that we can beat 'em.''