ST. PETERSBURG — Wade Davis had reason to believe.
He was feeling stronger than he had been. Was outwardly confident despite his past struggles. And had the element of surprise by adding a cutter to his repertoire.
By the time Davis was done Friday night, delivering a masterful complete game in a 7-2 drubbing of the Red Sox, he gave the Rays a little more to believe in.
"We do believe," manager Joe Maddon said. "You could sense that from our guys today. Our guys wanted to play this game tonight, we were ready to play that game tonight. Probably there's going to be skeptics, and I understand that: 'It's one win, okay, show me tomorrow.'
"So we've got to show them tomorrow again. … We've got to show them that we're for real, and we mean this, and we're going to get this done. But it had to start tonight."
With the win, the Rays improved to a season-best 15 games over .500 at 79-64 and, more important, moved within 5½ games of the Red Sox, the closest they've been to the AL wild-card spot in nearly two months. Though still a considerable gap with only 19 games remaining, it's momentum — opening a series that Maddon said had "playoff connotations" — in the right direction.
While the Rays believe they have a chance, their fans, apparently, not so much. Only 18,482 made it to the Trop.
Davis, who failed in three starts against the Sox, was dominant from the start, scattering six hits in posting his second complete game, and his first since 2009. He sailed through the first five innings, throwing his fastball by hitters, mixing in his curve and for the first time of any substance, the cutter. He held the Sox to two runs when they rallied a bit in the sixth and finished the job in 114 pitches.
"Very committed to what he was doing today," Maddon said. "He had a different look about him. He definitely was not going to be denied today. And he was not."
Davis said he felt good about his last start, and despite three past rough outings against Boston, was eager for the challenge. Adding the cutter in place of his wayward slider during his last bullpen session was a bold move, too, considering the stakes.
"I hadn't got them out yet," Davis said. "I had to figure out a way."
Davis had plenty of help as the Rays piled on the battered and bruised Sox by taking a 5-0 lead by the third inning.
Catcher John Jaso led the way with a three-run homer in the first. Plus, he caught Dustin Pedroia stealing in the second and doubled to spark another rally in the sixth.
The Rays were sharp in all facets, such as a third-inning sequence when Johnny Damon beat out an infield single and Evan Longoria scored from second.
That was exactly what the Sox didn't need, as they lost for the fifth time in six games and eighth in their last 11.
Their pitching staff already battered with injuries to Clay Buchholz, Erik Bedard and Josh Beckett, the Sox got only three innings, and not good ones, from John Lackey, who departed officially due to a left calf bruise. And their suddenly anemic lineup was also shorthanded, as third baseman Kevin Youkilis was in Boston having his sore right hip examined.
"I don't care how many injuries we have, we're trying to go out and win," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We didn't do a real good job of that tonight."
"We have to get back to playing good baseball," second baseman Pedroia said. "We've got to win games. We're trying our hardest, but we didn't play very well tonight. We have to come out and play better tomorrow."
Damon said the beauty of the situation is that there is absolutely no pressure on the Rays. Left unsaid, is the pressure mounting on the Sox?
"I'm not saying that there is, I think we hope that they feel the pressure," Longoria said. "That's kind of what we want them to do is feel us on their heels."