ST. PETERSBURG — C Dioner Navarro may have delivered the winning hit in the ninth Tuesday night.
But it was Navarro's picture-perfect throw one inning earlier to rob Jacob Ellsbury of a stolen base that many considered just as big — maybe even more.
"That was way bigger," LHP J.P. Howell said. "Obviously his hit won it, but (the throw) took the momentum. It was a huge momentum swing."
With one out and the score tied in the eighth, Ellsbury singled off the reliever. Ellsbury, the AL's stolen-base leader, then got a great jump when Howell threw Dustin Pedroia a changeup.
Navarro said he didn't rush and made a laser-like throw that hit Akinori Iwamura right in the glove and met a sliding Ellsbury at second. Navarro, who ranked second in the AL with a 33 percent caught-stealing rate going in, said he had never thrown out Ellsbury.
"He flies, man," Navarro said. "So I knew I needed to make the perfect throw, and that's what I did."
CRAWFORD CAUTIOUS: Though LF Carl Crawford's recovery from right middle finger surgery is going well, he said it will be at least two weeks until he is cleared to hit, which means the Rays might not know his availability for the first round of the playoffs until just before the opener. He said he could pinch run right now, but he can't play defense because he can't squeeze his glove properly. He hopes to get permission to do that and start gripping a bat next week.
UPTON UPDATE: CF B.J. Upton, who sat out his seventh straight game with a strained left quadriceps, said he is "definitely" not ready to get back in the outfield, and there's still a question over when he'll be ready to pinch hit.
DODGED A SCARE: Backup C Shawn Riggans returned to the clubhouse wearing a large leg brace after several days in the hospital; he had surgery last week to clean up an infected bursa sac in his right knee and will likely miss the rest of the season.
TROP TALK: With the attendance at Tropicana Field a hot topic locally and nationwide, manager Joe Maddon said there's nothing more the Rays can do other than keep winning. Tuesday's attendance (32,079) was the Rays' largest at home since Aug. 31 vs. the Orioles (32,379).
"I really think I made my pleas all year long, tried to point that out all along," Maddon said. "It's getting to the point now based on what's going on, you'd like to think you wouldn't have to say a whole lot more. Having said that, I really want it to be known that we do appreciate the group that does come out, and believe me, that is quite a difference than it had been in the past. I still believe it's incumbent on us to win and get into the playoffs and, all of a sudden, you're going to have that surge going into the next season, which is just common sense."
DOUBLE TAKE: With Navarro's walkoff bases-loaded single bouncing over the centerfield wall, the Rays had to double-check the rulebook to see if the final score should have been 3-1. Due to rule 10.06 (f), Navarro, who only touched first, only could be credited with a base touched in the natural course of play.
MISCELLANY: The Rays are 7-1 against the Red Sox at the Trop and 19-1 at home in front of crowds of 30,000 or more. … The Rays will release their 2009 schedule today, opening in Boston on April 6; the home opener is April 13 vs. the Yankees. … Maddon said the next day LHP David Price would be available is Thursday. … Red Sox manager Terry Francona is "pretty concerned" about Mike Lowell's apparent hip injury. … Hall of Famer Wade Boggs and Magic center Dwight Howard will throw out tonight's ceremonial first pitch. … Red Sox OF Jason Bay left to be with his pregnant wife, who is nearing labor in Boston.
Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.