BOSTON — As much as they denied it at the time, the Rays had some concerns about Fernando Rodney after he gave up a two-run walkoff homer Saturday.
Rodney was in his underwear on the way to the shower when manager Joe Maddon felt it was important to stop him for a quick hug to show support after what he considered "a tough moment emotionally." Several players made their way over to tell Rodney to not worry about his first blown save of the season.
Rodney insisted there was no cause for concern. And Sunday morning, he told pitching coach Jim Hickey he was ready, eager actually, to get back on the mound.
"Of course, of course," he said. "I want to pitch."
Then a few hours later, he showed them, blazing through the ninth inning to finish the 4-3 win that completed a dramatic flipping of the script and pushed the Rays into a tie for first place with Baltimore at 29-19.
"I got it in my heart today that if I came in the game, I know I can do my job," Rodney said. "And that's what I did."
Saturday, the Sox took the lead, the Rays rallied to go ahead but the Sox won it on Jarrod Saltalamacchia's pinch-hit homer.
Sunday, the Rays led into the seventh on a strong start from Jeremy Hellickson, fell behind on Adrian Gonzalez's three-run homer then won it in the ninth when Ben Zobrist drew a leadoff walk from Sox closer Alfredo Aceves and an out later Sean Rodriguez hit a two-run homer.
"You always want to help the team win," Rodriguez said. "When you can do it in that fashion, it's a good feeling."
The difference Sunday, of course, was the game wasn't over when Rodriguez's blast went over the Green Monster and landed on Lansdowne Street.
Maddon had no hesitation in summoning Rodney, whose work for the injured Kyle Farnsworth is a primary reason for the Rays' success. He made it immediately obvious he was ready for the challenge, which started with Saltalamacchia, and featured seven consecutive strikes and only 12 pitches total.
"That was the absolute perfect setup for Fernando," Maddon said. "I know he was wanting that exact moment."
Rodney needed two pitches to get Saltalamacchia on a groundout. Nick Punto was done in three on another ground ball. Seven more pitches, and Daniel Nava, whom Rodney walked to open the ninth on Saturday, struck out.
Rodney shot his imaginary arrow into the air after his 16th save, and the Rays were celebrating, turning off the lights and turning up the music in the visiting clubhouse for their now standard victory dance party, which included a random elderly fan in a Red Sox shirt they invited in.
"(Rodney) came out throwing strikes," Maddon said. "He was hell-bent on just throwing strikes. You could see that in his eyes. You can see that in his results. He attacked the hitters.
"The way he went about his business … there was no tap dancing. There was no concern about what had happened. He was a true pro. It was great to see."
The view from the top of the AL East, especially considering all that has gone wrong, is pretty good, too.
"Regarding all the different baseball adversities we've felt … I think it is pretty phenomenal," Maddon said. "It's a tribute to the players, especially those who, as they say, stepped up. A lot of guys who've elevated their game are getting an opportunity, and they're making the most of it."
And Rodney, much to their relief, was back among them.