ST. PETERSBURG — At least the other big question hanging over the Tampa Bay sports scene was answered Tuesday night.
Yes, the Rays can beat the Indians.
Though it wasn't particularly clear-cut, either.
It involved an early exit by Edwin Jackson, a spectacular catch by B.J. Upton, a late power show by their shorthanded lineup and the work of four relievers, but it produced a rare result, an 8-4 win over a last-place Indians team that had beaten them five straight.
"We got the monkey off our back with the Indians, as weird as that sounds," DH Cliff Floyd said. "We'll take this one and run."
The Rays (67-45) maintained their three-game American League East lead over Boston, which won at Kansas City.
It was as much of a team effort as they've had lately, with the stagnant offense playing as big a role (three homers in an inning, seven extra-base hits for the night) as the usual pitching and defense.
"I really believe we showed a lot of heart, a lot of want-to," manager Joe Maddon said. "We wanted to win that game. Somehow we did, because these guys have really pressed us hard."
With all that happened, there were three key moments:
With the Rays holding a 4-3 lead in the sixth, Jackson had two on with two outs and J.P. Howell walked Grady Sizemore to load the bases. Grant Balfour gave up a long fly ball to Ben Francisco that carried to deepest left-center, but Upton ran it down three steps from the wall.
"That was the momentum saver," Jackson said. "That allowed us to keep the momentum and score more runs."
Upton said that it was tricky, that he knew off the bat the ball was going to stay in the park but that it was a matter of getting to the right spot, taking his eye off the ball a few times as he got there, then finding it again in time.
Said Balfour: "He made it look easy."
The Indians threatened again and again, and it was Dan Wheeler's turn to step up in the seventh. Coming in with men on first and third after Balfour got two outs, Wheeler got Franklin Gutierrez to fly out to right.
"That's something I thrive on, I want to be out there to help him (Balfour) get out of a big jam," Wheeler said. "When there's runners on, you just kick up that intensity level just a notch."
The hitters responded in a big way, smacking three homers in a 14-pitch, four-batter span in the seventh. Evan Longoria's was the most significant, breaking the team rookie record with his 22nd (and now ranking sixth in the AL), and the most special as he first hit two towering fouls off Rafael Betancourt before an arching 428-foot blast that started fair. "Longo's at-bat was really spectacular," Maddon said.
Even better, Floyd (his eighth) and Dioner Navarro (his fifth, first since June 20), who'd earlier had a two-run game-tying single, followed in the Rays' second three-homer inning of the season.
"What an at-bat by Longoria," Wheeler said. "And it was good to see Floyd hit that ball, hopefully a sign of things to come. It's pretty fun to watch when we're able to do that."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.