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Rays pound Red Sox to take two-game lead

ST. PETERSBURG — The only thing actually decided in Wednesday's easy 10-3 win over the Red Sox was the season series between the teams, which — as a potential first-place tiebreaker — the Rays hope doesn't matter.

But the Rays came away with a lot. The confidence from beating Boston two out of three for the second time in 10 days. Momentum from the previously surging Sox. And an increased opportunity to accomplish some pretty big things over the final 11 days of the season.

With their 90th win, the Rays now have a two-game lead — and, with the tiebreaker, essentially a three-game cushion — over the Sox in the American League East race.

Of more immediate interest, and potential party planning: their win and Minnesota's loss reduced their "magic number" to clinch a playoff spot to three.

And with a four-game series starting tonight against the Twins, the Rays (90-60) need two wins to be popping champagne bottles for the first time in the Tropicana Field home clubhouse, with the first cork conceivably flying as soon as Friday night.

As much as manager Joe Maddon wants the players to focus on winning each day's game, they are aware of what is pending.

"We do, and we enjoy it," Carlos Pena said. "But at some point you have to say okay, 'It's time to go back to the basics.' That's the way we got here. That's why we're able to enjoy it in moments. But how did we get here? Little-by-little."

And, actually, so is Maddon.

"That would be cause for celebration, absolutely it would," he said. "You look at where the Rays have come from, our brief history, even what happened last year (a major-league-worst 66-96 record). I've mentioned to the guys often, I'm into celebrating. And if we get to that point sooner, we'll do it in the appropriate way. But for right now, let's beat the Twins (tonight)."

The Sox (89-63) left for Toronto talking about still winning the division but not sounding overly concerned if they do or end up the wild card. They were clear about being impressed by the Rays.

"They're good," said Boston's David Ortiz, who homered twice. "They whoop your a- -. If they catch you sleeping, they whoop your a- -. It's what they've been doing all year to everybody. And at home, in close games, man, they fight. They fight.

"A lot of people asked me questions after the first half and (I) say like, 'Well, to tell you the truth they might not get prepared to play in October,' but they look like they're ready to go. They're playing like they've got nothing to lose, and that's dangerous. That's dangerous."

The Rays took an 8-2 lead by the third, knocking around knuckleballer Tim Wakefield with homers by the unlikely trio of Willy Aybar, Gabe Gross and Fernando Perez (of course they did).

The Boston fans in the Tropicana Field sellout crowd of 36,048 seemed to show more fight (especially the one arrested and nearly Tasered atop the dugout by police) than the players. And the frustrations mounted, with manager Terry Francona saying the phone in the dugout from the bullpen was actually getting outside calls.

"We understood that we're playing the Boston Red Sox, we know what the standings are, the whole entire hype about it all, that there's a lot at stake," Pena said. "What has happened here says a lot about this team … it says a lot about the character of this ballclub."

And what the weekend could be like.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Advantage, Rays

The Rays won twice Wednesday, because they also took the season series from the Red Sox 10-8. That's big because if the Rays and Red Sox finish with the same record (and both are in the playoff field), the first tiebreaker to determine the division champion (and potential homefield advantage) is head-to-head record. So in essence, they now have a three-game division lead.

Rays pound Red Sox to take two-game lead 09/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 18, 2008 9:04pm]
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