ST. PETERSBURG — They may not have a single player obviously worthy of All-Star selection, as Boston/American League manager Terry Francona said. They may not have the experience necessary to stay in the race, as Boston DH/team conscience David Ortiz said.
But there are a couple of things the Rays do have that look pretty good this morning.
There's the thrilling 7-6 victory Wednesday night that completed a second home sweep of the Red Sox and their seventh sweep of the season.
The major-league-best 52-32 record (and a pace for an amazing 100 wins).
And the 3½-game AL East lead.
"It's exciting just to hear that, it really is," pitcher Scott Kazmir said. "We can't just think that we've already won it right now, because we're a long ways away. But we have the makeup of playing in October. We have the makeup of really making a run."
There were plenty of times Wednesday when they didn't look that way, dulling the roar of the Tropicana Field sellout crowd of 36,048, as Kazmir and the offense struggled and the Rays trailed 4-1 going into the seventh.
But then there were several moments when they looked unbeatable, or at least undeniable, roaring back with a six-run rally in a 37-minute, 54-pitch bottom of the seventh, as Evan Longoria had another huge hit. Then they hung on with their patchwork bullpen, Gary Glover and Dan Wheeler (the third pitcher to get a save in the three games) getting the final nine outs.
The Sox scored once in the eighth and again in the ninth but could have had more if not for a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch by centerfielder B.J. Upton, a baffling baserunning move by the Red Sox (with Mike Lowell caught stealing) and Jason Varitek taking a called third strike.
"We felt like we were going to win that game somehow," manager Joe Maddon said. "Why? Because we've got that feeling about us right now. We believe."
The Rays started the rally by scoring on an infield single and a bases-loaded walk, then Longoria, who helped save Tuesday's win with his glove, came up in this one with a huge hit, a two-run double that put them ahead 5-4. He'll probably clean the Trop during today's off day and make the team lunch Friday.
Upton lent quite a hand after the Sox got the first two on in the ninth, racing back to catch Kevin Youkilis' fly just shy of the wall. Maddon called it "magnificent," Willie Mays-esque and "one of the better catches you'll see."
Upton called it his duty. "I was going to get it, that was the only thing on my mind, catching it," Upton said. "If that ball drops, it's a totally different game. We might still be out there. I told Carl (Crawford) when I came in, I was going to have to run through the wall not to catch it."
Jason Bartlett, so sore from an earlier slide that pitcher James Shields was set to pinch-hit for him, came out and helped seal it with a two-run single.
The series was played without any fights or incidents stemming from the June 5 brawl, though there were a couple of "moments" Wednesday. Ex-Ray Julio Lugo was called out, and the Rays awarded a double play, after he slid wide of second, came up and extended his arms toward Bartlett in the fourth. And Wheeler buzzed Manny Ramirez to open the ninth.
As pleased as the Rays were with the sweep, which Maddon said "reaffirmed" they could play with the Sox, they made plenty of references to how long they still had to go, and how they still have to beat the Sox in Boston (as the home team has won each of the 12 games so far) when they play again in September.
But where they are right now?
"I can't tell you I expected it; I'd be lying right now," Maddon said. "But we expect to win on a nightly basis regardless of who it's against, and it's a great feeling."
Staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report. Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.
Taking control Rays 7, Red Sox 6
AL East standings
*Late game not included