CHICAGO — Carlos Pena said there is a key phrase the Rays have often used throughout a special season filled with memorable comebacks.
"Keep coming. Keep coming."
These Rays never quit. No matter the circumstances, or the score, they keep scratching and clawing, feeling as though if they keep it close long enough, they'll eventually prevail.
White Sox starter Javier Vazquez found that out the hard way Saturday.
Vazquez carried a perfect game into the sixth, outshining a second straight strong performance by All-Star left-hander Scott Kazmir. But, as they did the night before, the Rays hung around long enough to feast on the Sox bullpen, using an unrelenting four-run rally in the eighth to pull out a 5-3 victory at U.S. Cellular Field.
The win came with the Rays at the center of the baseball world: on Fox's national game of the week for the first time in more than five years. And in reaching a few more franchise watermarks, they showed flashes of why they could be on the network's radar for its postseason coverage.
Tampa Bay (a major-league best 79-49) is a club-record 30 games over .500 and, more important, boasts a franchise-best 51/2-game lead over the Red Sox in the AL East.
Nearly half (37) of the Rays' wins are come-from-behind.
"Once the eighth inning comes around, it seems like we change our whole approach — like we're just locked in," Kazmir said. "You look at the at-bats we're taking, we really just battle out there. It doesn't matter how many runs we're down, it seems like the eighth or ninth is where we kind of buckle down."
The winning rally came in fitting form. And shortstop Jason Bartlett, who broke up Vazquez's no-hitter in the sixth by doubling and scoring, was a fitting catalyst. With two on and no outs and the Rays down 3-1, Bartlett singled to load the bases, and Vazquez was yanked, receiving a standing ovation.
The boo-birds came out soon after reliever Matt Thornton was victimized by the Rays' patience. Akinori Iwamura put together a spectacular 13-pitch plate appearance, fouling off seven 3-and-2 pitches before drawing a walk to make it 3-2. B.J. Upton ripped an infield single off shortstop Orlando Cabrera's glove, and Pena capped it with a two-run single.
"That was an unbelievable game Vazquez pitched, amazing," Pena said. "To be able to get to him in that inning and then get to the bullpen, it says a lot about how much our guys battle."
Kazmir did some battling of his own, giving up three runs and four hits in lasting six innings for the second straight start. He said he didn't worry about a pitch-count issue that has plagued him this season and, as a result, felt a lot sharper. He even liked the pitches that Jermaine Dye hit for home runs in the fourth and sixth; the latter, on a fastball in, barely cleared the leftfield wall. "I guess that's why they call it the 'Windy City,' " Kazmir joked.
Three relievers combined for three scoreless innings to give Tampa Bay its 15th win in Kazmir's 21 starts.
"Everything felt great," Kazmir said. "I was throwing backdoor sliders, changeups were going good. I was throwing a lot of offspeed for strikes. I felt good about everything."
Especially the comeback.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.