ST. PETERSBURG — You'd think the Red Sox would have bigger things to worry about.
The Rays certainly did, shrugging off Sox complaints about Yunel Escobar swiping a base with a large lead that led to a benches-clearing incident. Instead they relished an impressive 8-5 victory that extended their winning streak to a season-high four games and dealt Boston a 10th straight defeat.
"We're going to keep playing," Rays third-base coach Tom Foley said. "They took offense to it. Things got out of hand a little bit. So that's where we are. We won."
The Rays (23-28) were clearly feeling better about themselves, following three straight walkoffs with an inspired seventh-inning comeback after losing the lead Sunday, as they head to Toronto to face the AL East-leading Blue Jays.
"It's been good," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "We hit rock bottom there for a while. Sometimes you've got to do that to go up."
The seventh-inning to-do after Escobar reacted angrily to the Sox hissing was the latest installment in the heated rivalry between the teams, but it really didn't amount to much.
There was one real blow, with one-time Rays enforcer Jonny Gomes — shocker! — going after Escobar. Three ejections — Gomes, Escobar and Sean Rodriguez, whose eventful day also included a tiebreaking pinch-hit three-run homer. And another sermon from Rays manager Joe Maddon on the inappropriateness of complaining about your opponent trying to score.
The seventh inning started with the Rays leading 3-1 after a solid start by Jake Odorizzi, but Joel Peralta gave it up by giving up his fourth homer to Gomes in 13 at-bats.
But the Rays came back, Rodriguez crushing his team-leading sixth homer. An out and two singles later, Escobar doubled to make it 8-3.
And that's when it got interesting.
Escobar took off for third and made it unchallenged, then several Sox, backup catcher David Ross seemingly among them, started yelling at him, objecting to Escobar taking a base with a five-run lead.
Boston manager John Farrrell called that "somewhat of a gray area" as far as no longer running. Maddon scoffed at the thought, mentioning repeatedly, and citing notes, that in last year's playoff opener, former Sox star Jacoby Ellsbury stole second leading 8-2 in the eighth, and the Rays didn't complain.
"That was a little more egregious than their interpretation of (Sunday)," Maddon said.
Escobar grew increasingly animated in his response, pointing repeatedly into the Boston dugout and barking back, breaking away from Foley.
"Yuni's an emotional guy," Foley said. "I guess he could only take so much and it finally got to him." (Escobar declined comment, issuing a statement through the Rays PR staff saying only, "As far as I'm concerned, it's over.")
And also to Gomes — who led the charge for the Rays against the Sox in an infamous 2008 brawl — as he raced in from leftfield and shoved Escobar, trying to fire up his own team.
"I'm not one to have an arguing match with anyone," Gomes said. "What really has to be said? I figured a hands-on approach was a little more appropriate."
The benches emptied, though there was only some jawing and a bit of pushing and shoving, plus the somewhat surprising ejection of Rodriguez, who was admittedly upset at how the Sox came out of their dugout. Maddon called it "inappropriate," saying Rodriguez wasn't doing anything others weren't; umpire Larry Vanover said he was "not at liberty to go into that," and it would be included in his report.
Maddon called the Sox complaint "ridiculous" and insisted Escobar made a good move to try to build the lead — further evidenced by the Sox scoring two in the ninth and getting the tying run to the on-deck circle.
Then Maddon, noting that Boston's 5-0 Saturday lead didn't hold up, delivered his standard speech on "this crazy stuff about leads and teams trying to not score runs." He said the Sox were making "a really poor argument," and "the point of the game is to score runs if you're on offense. The point of the game is to prevent runs when you're on defense."
And by the end of the long afternoon, it seemed the defending World Series champs' issue with Escobar was as much the product of their longest-in-20-years losing streak as anything.
Admitted Ross: "I think we're just tired of getting beat."