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Pena, Hammel give Rays dramatic victory

BOSTON — Winning one dramatic game at Fenway Park was something for the Rays. Winning another Wednesday was something else.

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A night of wasted chances ended in tremendous opportunity as Carlos Pena's three-run homer with two outs in the top of the 14th gave the Rays a thrilling 4-2 victory in their longest game of the season.

And that wasn't all the drama as closer Troy Percival loaded the bases to start the 14th — allowing a double and a pair of walks — and then left with what he said was a stiff back, and Jason Hammel came on to get the final three outs for his first career save.

"To have not won that game after the way we played would have been an absolute crime," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's hard to top (Tuesday) night, but we may have.''

The win allowed the Rays (87-57) to expand their American League East lead to 2½ games — with 18 to play — heading into today's off day in New York before a weekend series at Yankee Stadium.

It also gave them their first series victory over the Red Sox in Boston since 1999 and just their third overall in 30 visits during their 11 seasons. Going into Tuesday's game, they had lost nine straight at Fenway.

"To win two games here, it's huge for us,'' Pena said. "I think it says a lot about the heart this team has, and what we're capable of doing, and how we just kept coming and kept coming and kept coming and finally were able to breakthrough and get that win.''

For much of the long night — the game took 5 hours and two minutes — it looked as if the Rays would waste a tremendous start by Andy Sonnanstine and a ton of chances to score.

They were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position through the first 13 innings, 2-for-36 for the series and 4-for-56 for the first six games of their rugged road trip, including a stretch of 0-for-24 between Dioner Navarro's 13th-inning single Saturday in Toronto until his ninth-inning double Tuesday in Boston.

But they kept threatening, and holding off the Sox with one escape act after another, and finally rallied again.

"We have a definite resiliency about us," Maddon said.

Akinori Iwamura got the go-ahead rally started with a two-out single off Mike Timlin. Rocco Baldelli followed with another, and Pena knocked a 1-and-0 pitch over the Green Monster to put the Rays up 4-1 in what he said was the biggest of the 74 homers he's hit as a Ray. "I was just trying to see the ball as best as I could,'' Pena said. "I got a pitch I thought I could handle and put a good swing on it and got the barrel on the ball. I was actually surprised that it went out. ... I was shocked. I was hoping the ball was going to hit the wall. ... When it went out I was excited.''

Percival came on for the 14th and — naturally — made it exciting, allowing a leadoff double to Jacoby Ellsbury and walking Dustin Pedroia on five pitches and David Ortiz on four to load the bases.

Assistant trainer Paul Harker and Maddon went to the mound, and Percival — in his fourth appearance since coming off the disabled list with a right knee problem — came out, replaced by Hammel.

Hammel - who in his last outing allowing five runs in the ninth inning on Thursday against the Yankees - was superb in difficult circumstances, allowing one run on a sac fly by Kevin Youkilis and then striking out Jason Bay and getting Alex Cora to fly out .

"You've got to give Jason Hammel a lot of credit,'' Maddon said. "Coming in with the bases loaded and that part of the batting order after what happened to him in the recent past, truly a tremendous performance."

Hammel - admittedly having trouble putting his thoughts into words - said it was "without a doubt" the biggest outing of his career.

"That was unbelievable,'' Hammel said. "If that's what playoff baseball is all about it's going to be fun.''

Hammel said he had been waiting for the chance to prove to himself and his teammates that his last outing was an aberration, and was determined to be aggressive. "I just wanted to go in there an attack,'' he said. "The adrenaline was definitely more than I ever felt, and it felt great. It was just unbelievable.''

Percival said the problem wasn't with his right knee, for which he had been on the disabled list, but a stiff back. "My knee was fine,'' Percival said. "The first time I got up I was actually pretty good, but that last time when I got up my back locked up on me and I had a hard time bending over reaching my spots. I don't anticipate any problems.''

Maddon said he would wait to get an update on Percival's condition on Friday before deciding how to proceed with the closer's role, and whether to start mixing in others such as Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour.

"We've done it both ways this year,'' Maddon said. "We're definitely a better team if Percy's well, absolutely we're better. We'll just see how it all shakes out by Friday and then we'll figure that out.''

Percival said he was confident he could resume his duties, but allowed he "might need a day off here and there.''.

Wednesday's game — played on a cool Boston night with the heat of the Rays hitting three Red Sox and Boston's Kevin Youkilis sliding across second and into Iwamura's left knee — was tied 1-1 from the third inning on.

The Rays did a lot just to get to the 14th as the Sox had runners in scoring position in each inning from the ninth inning on. But each time the Rays escaped, even in the 12th when Pedroia was — barely — hit by a J.P. Howell pitch and Ortiz dropped his first successful sacrifice bunt since April 2001.

Sonnanstine outlasted more-decorated opponent Josh Beckett, working seven dazzling innings, striking out a season-high matching seven and allowing only four hits and one unearned run.

The Rays continued their offensive struggles, failing to score Willy Aybar from third with no outs in the second and leaving the bases loaded in the fifth and the eighth.

The game went to extras after the Rays got what appeared to be a break when first-base ump Ron Kulpa called out Ellsbury on a close call that would have loaded the bases with Pedroia coming up.

The Rays survived a threat in the 10th, when Pedroia led off with a double. But Chad Bradford, after intentionally walking Ortiz, got Youkilis to hit into a double play and Bay to ground out.

Both the Rays and Sox are off today, and the division race resumes on Friday, when the Rays open a three-game series at Yankee Stadium, and the Red Sox play the first of four games over three days against the sizzling Blue Jays, whose 10-game win streak ended Wednesday.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com

Pena, Hammel give Rays dramatic victory 09/10/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 12, 2008 2:02pm]
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