ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon has insisted, maintained and sworn that every game the Rays play is of equal significance and no win is any more special than another.
And when he said that again Tuesday night — after a tense, 2-1 walkoff victory over the Red Sox that re-established the Rays' lead in the American League East, as well as their confidence after Monday's rough loss — it was obvious he was lying.
You could tell by the way the Rays celebrated their 11th walkoff win, a wild, moving mass of players that stretched from home plate, where Jason Bartlett scored, toward second base, where Dioner Navarro tried to flee after the bases-loaded single that made the difference.
"This is uncharted territory for us right now," starter Andy Sonnanstine said. "I don't think we can celebrate too much at all."
And, Maddon be damned, by what they said.
"We try to treat every win as the same — I like that motto that Joe has — but it was a big win," said reliever, and winner, Dan Wheeler. "They come in last night and do what they did to us, and pretty much tied for first place after we've been in first place for some time, we don't want to give that up.
"Our No. 1 goal is to make the playoffs, but we want to win this AL East as badly as they do."
They have a one-game lead with 13 to play (and a chance to clinch a playoff berth as soon as Friday), and it took a lot to get that before a more pro-Rays crowd of 32,079 at Tropicana Field.
Boston ace Josh Beckett held the Rays without a hit into the fifth and a took a two-hit shutout into the seventh. The Sox scored an unearned run off Sonnanstine — who was again brilliant — in the sixth, but Carlos Pena called it even when he led off the seventh with an opposite-field homer.
"Kind of an uplifting moment," Maddon said.
The Rays had an even bigger one at the end of an odd ninth.
The winning rally off reliever Justin Masterson doesn't read like much: Bartlett's leadoff bloop single, Pena's full-count walk, Cliff Floyd being hit by a pitch and Navarro's drive over the drawn-in outfield.
But that's until you know that Maddon predicted Bartlett's hit to bench coach Dave Martinez, Pena had the benefit of an extra strike when time was called after a ball came out of the Boston bullpen, Floyd was hit on an 0-and-2 pitch and Navarro looked fooled on the previous swing.
"We knew we needed a win tonight, especially after the way we lost (Monday) night," Navarro said. "… We knew that if we give a break to this team they're going to take advantage of it."
And then it got really crazy. "I was kinda mad that I had a bad hamstring I couldn't run away from anybody," Navarro said.
The Rays have been in first place, alone or tied, since the first game after the All-Star break and weren't ready to give it up.
"It says a lot about our team," Navarro said. "I think a lot of people outside, they weren't expecting us to come back after that loss (Monday), but we did and that's what teams do when they win."
The Red Sox said what you'd expect, that they'll try to win the series (and move back into a tie) tonight with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on the mound. "I'll take our chances," Jason Varitek said.
But Floyd said the Rays are making their case clear.
"Huge step. And they know it's a huge step," Floyd said. "Even though they've won the championships and they got veteran guys over there and they've got the poise and all that, no matter what happens, it still hurts when you lose.
"We beat them up there in Boston, those two out of three, it hurt them. They stayed in the dugout when we won those games. It bothered them."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.