BOSTON — The dozen-plus Rays crammed into the Fenway Park bullpen didn't know what it meant when they saw starter David Price staggered by a line drive to the chest that would eventually force him to leave Sunday's game after just four innings.
But they knew this much.
"Well," reliever Joel Peralta said, "nothing good."
Their four-run lead had just been halved, and with Price on his way to a nearby hospital (he was okay), the already short-handed bullpen was suddenly faced with the unseemly task of getting 15 outs in what, for the second consecutive day of great drama, was the Rays' most important game of their season.
Somehow, some way, with rookie Jake McGee the unlikely leader, they came through again, the Rays hanging on for an 8-5 victory over the Red Sox and taking three of four here after sweeping the Sox last weekend at home.
"We answered the call," centerfielder B.J. Upton said.
"It's a beautiful thing," rightfielder Matt Joyce said. "It's really an unbelievable job that we've done. It's hard to describe."
The best part, they're hoping, is yet to come. And they are getting increasingly confident about it.
The possibility of making the playoffs that appeared so unlikely when the Rays were nine games out 16 days earlier, and seemed to make for no more than a cute little story over the past couple of weeks, is now a legitimate possibility as they moved to within two games of the AL wild-card spot.
"I feel pretty good about it, I really do," manager Joe Maddon said. "To be able to do this, against this team here, now, God, if that can't bolster your confidence, nothing really can."
The challenge for the Rays (85-67) is still significant, as seven of their 10 remaining games are against the AL-best Yankees (including four in three days at Yankee Stadium starting Tuesday), while the Red Sox have seven against the last-place Orioles (starting with a day-night doubleheader today).
As hot as the Rays have been — 26-13 since Aug. 7, 11-4 since being nine out Sept. 2 — the Sox have helped by playing poorly, losing nine of their past 11.
"We got a two-game lead with 10 to go. We're ready to go. That's basically it, man," Dustin Pedroia said. "We're not going to feel sorry for ourselves for playing like crap. Nobody's going to give us anything."
The Rays led 4-2 when Price left and quickly made it 6-2 with help from the sloppy Sox. That's where McGee stepped in and stepped up, the 25-year-old lefty getting eight straight outs before allowing a single to his last batter.
"Jake McGee, oh my god," Maddon said. "He was not afraid of the moment. … He was outstanding. He definitely was our star of the game."
Said McGee: "It's pretty exciting."
The lead was 8-2, thanks to Joyce's third hit of the day, when McGee left with a man on in the seventh, but Cesar Ramos gave up a three-run homer to Mike Aviles that made it 8-5. Then Brandon Gomes, another rookie, and from nearby Fall River, Mass., got a huge strikeout of Pedroia and a to-the-wall flyout from David Ortiz. After J.P. Howell allowed a double to former Ray Carl Crawford, Maddon summoned Peralta, for the second straight day, to finish it, this time needing four outs.
"The guy's got all the guts in the world," Maddon said.
Peralta got the last out of the eighth and the first two of the ninth, then allowed a double to Jacoby Ellsbury. The urgency to get out Aviles was magnified with Adrian Gonzalez and Ortiz looming on deck, and Peralta got it, on a fly to right. "Every out is hard to get," Peralta said. "I told Joe I'm not pitching (today), so he cannot use me, no way."
The Rays will enjoy the day off in New York, then regroup Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, either one, two or three games out.
"We're definitely increasing our chances," Joyce said, "with each game we play."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.