DETROIT — Typically, the narrative after a victory is about what the Rays did to win. But as they beat the Tigers 6-3 on Friday, the story was really what they did to avoid losing.
Specifically, how Brad Boxberger came on — coolly and calmly — to get out of a bases-loaded, no-outs mess in the sixth inning with a two-run lead.
"No doubt," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Boxy's moment was the game for us."
The victory, coming after an 8-1 loss in the series opener, was the Rays' eighth in their past 10 games and 15th in 23, improving them to 39-50 and moving to within nine games of American League East-leading Baltimore.
A surge of offense from Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria at the top of the order, another big hit — in terms of drama and distance — by Sean Rodriguez and five solid but not sharp innings from Alex Cobb left the Rays comfortably ahead midway through the sixth.
But things changed quickly.
First, some controversy.
Cobb had hit Victor Martinez in the fourth, and the Tigers hit Longoria — "intentionally,'' Maddon insisted; "he can think what he wants," pitcher Drew Smyly countered — to lead off the sixth, leading to two runs and a 5-1 lead.
But when Cobb opened the home sixth by hitting Ian Kinsler — albeit with a curveball — plate umpire Quinn Wolcott, in his first day as a full-time ump after 11/2 years as a fill-in, issued a warning to both benches.
That was enough for Maddon to come out of the dugout and voice his displeasure, concerned about the Tigers' hitters getting to dig in with no concern of inside pitches. Maddon didn't get even halfway to the foul line before crew chief Greg Gibson ejected him. Maddon at that point took a few more minutes to have his say.
Cobb and Maddon insisted there was no intent and they felt Gibson was protecting his young colleague.
"It's got to be looked at a different way; have a little better judgment," Cobb said.
When play resumed, the game started to get away quickly from Cobb. He threw errantly on a pickoff to first, walked Miguel Cabrera, allowed a run-scoring single to Martinez to make it 5-2 and walked J.D. Martinez to load the bases on his 86th and final pitch.
That's where Boxberger came in to clean up the mess, the third time this season he has diffused a bases-loaded situation.
"He's not afraid," Maddon said. "He really does not rush whatsoever. He's very calm in those moments with good stuff."
Boxberger was looking to strike out Torii Hunter but got a 6-4-3 double play, trading a run for two outs. Then he got Don Kelly swinging to end the threat and basically seal the win, even though he pitched another inning, followed by Joel Peralta and Jake McGee.
"To be able to stop the damage that's going on and keep the momentum on our side is big at that point of the game," Boxberger said.
Not that you'd know by watching Boxberger walk stoically off the mound.
"I'm not going to run and jump around and do cartwheels and all that," he said. "But absolutely, going out there and doing my job and keeping us ahead in the game is definitely satisfying."