ST. PETERSBURG — Missing two of their biggest bats and immersed in a major offensive slump, the Rays have been searching desperately for a way to score more runs.
Saturday, they found it in a seventh-inning game-deciding rally — and yes, B.J. Upton said, "it's still a rally" — in which they scored two runs without a hit, or even an official at-bat, and went on to a 5-3 win over the Red Sox.
"That," manager Joe Maddon said, "is like whatever the nth degree is in scratching out runs."
Down 3-2, the Rays loaded the bases on a walk, a hit batter, a sac bunt and an intentional walk, then scored on a bases-loaded walk by Jose Lobaton and a sacrifice fly by Elliot Johnson.
"We've been struggling," Lobaton said. "We've got to be working everything — walk, I don't care if a guy strikes out and the guy misses the ball, a wild pitch, if we score, I'm happy with that. Right now we need to win. And to win, we need to score runs."
They did just enough Saturday before 27,311 at the Trop, combined with a couple of flashbacks to their old sparkling defense (a throw by rightfielder Ben Zobrist and tag by Jose Molina, a catch by Lobaton) and strong pitching. All-Star David Price worked into the eighth for his American League-leading (and major-league-most matching) 12th win, and, after Joel Peralta got two big outs, All-Star Fernando Rodney logged his 26th save.
The Rays (46-42) stayed a half-game out of the AL's second wild-card spot.
"That's who we've got to be," Maddon said. "We can't sit around. We're not going to bludgeon people to death. We have to be that group you saw tonight."
Price was sharp early but made a few mistakes, a two-run homer to rookie Will Middlebrooks on a two-out, 0-and-2 pitch and an errant pickoff toss to third that gave the Sox a run. Still, after a season-high-matching 119 pitches, it was good enough. "We continue to play well on my day," he said.
Trailing by a run, the game-changing sequence started innocently, with Boston starter Clay Buchholz walking Luke Scott, then hitting Jeff Keppinger. Next, demoted leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings bunted the runners up a base, a move Maddon acknowledged he wouldn't have made if they hadn't been struggling.
Sox manager Bobby Valentine had reliever Matt Albers intentionally walk pinch-hitter Hideki Matsui and his .175 average to load the bases, a tactic that can put a pitcher in a tough spot. It did, as Albers walked Lobaton on a full count to force in the tying run.
"Thank God I got a good result and I got a walk," Lobaton said.
Johnson, hitting from his stronger left side because Valentine left the right-handed Albers in, followed with a sac fly, and the Rays were up for good at 4-3.
Maddon called it an example of improved execution, a real-life application of the fundamental the coaches have been stressing in extra work sessions.
"Rays baseball," Johnson said. "Winning baseball. It's taking what they give you. Any of those cliches you guys want to write down."