ST. PETERSBURG — Maybe the Rays really do have something special working.
Because Saturday night, they scored a huge victory in spite of themselves, winning the exact kind of game that had slipped away so many times this season, pockmarked by wasted opportunities and topped by a blown save by Kyle Farnsworth, who has elbow issues.
But this time, they came out on top, winning 6-5 in 11 innings when Evan Longoria singled in Desmond Jennings to spark their team-record 12th walkoff celebration of the season. Even better, it was the struggling Red Sox who were trudging off.
With the win, the Rays continued their amazing march back into contention, moving to within 4½ games of the Red Sox — the closest they've been to the wild-card spot since July 16 — though with only 18 games left. They also improved to a season-best 16 games over .500 at 80-64, the result of a 21-10 streak since Aug. 8 that is the best in the AL East teams as they made up 51/2 games in the wild-card race.
"Everybody believes that we can do this," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "There's no question in my mind. Especially now. We validated the charge over the last two days."
The Sox, meanwhile, continue to be co-conspirators, losing their fourth straight, sixth of seven and ninth of 12.
"We're not playing good baseball," Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "That has to change. The way we're playing now is not going to fly. I don't care if we got a few runs to make it close. We needed more."
Jennings started the rally off Boston's Daniel Bard with a drive to right-center that tailed away and landed just out of the reach of diving centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and shy of rightfielder Darnell McDonald. "I guess I put it in a perfect spot between them," Jennings said.
Francona eschewed anything tricky, such as walking the bases loaded, and instead let Bard play it out. He got B.J. Upton to ground to first and got ahead of Longoria 0-and-2, but Longoria swung at a high fastball and knocked it into center — the Rays' first hit of the night in 14 at-bats with a runner in scoring position.
"I was just trying to put the bat on the ball," said Longoria, who ended up with the fifth walkoff hit of his career.
For much of the night, before a boisterous and split red-blue Tropicana Field crowd of 24,566, it appeared the Rays were going to win in spite of themselves.
But two outs from victory in the ninth, Farnsworth allowed back-to-back home runs on two-strike pitches to Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ellsbury.
Dustin Pedroia followed with a double — hustling out of the box and sliding in headfirst to beat Upton's throw to second — and Gonzalez walked. Maddon pulled Farnsworth — who expects to be out at least a few days due to a recurrence of the tenderness that sidelined him last month — and lefty Cesar Ramos came through in a treacherous situation, getting dangerous David Ortiz to ground into a double play, Sean Rodriguez hanging in to make the turn and Casey Kotchman a scoop on the back end.
Ramos was one of three young relievers to step up. Jake McGee retired Gonzalez on a weak groundout in a key situation in the seventh, and Brandon Gomes, the rookie from Fall River, Mass., got the final four outs for the win.
"Look at those young guys," Maddon said. "That's pretty impressive."
So, too, is the Rays' late run.
"That's nice, isn't it," Maddon said. "I'll take it. And I'll take the mental and physical effort level of our group right now.
"To win that is pretty significant."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.