ST. PETERSBURG — What the Rays took out of Monday's 6-5 victory over the Red Sox was important enough, a confidence-boosting win to start the second half of their schedule and final homestand before the All-Star break, as well as the reclamation of second place in the American League East.
But what went into the hard-fought come-from-four-runs-back win, before a spirited Trop crowd of 28,528, is what might have a more lasting meaning.
Gritty relief work, from a parade of six after an abysmal three-inning start by Matt Garza, who had a 49-pitch third inning.
Dazzling defense, topped by a spectacular running then all-out diving you-need-to-see-it catch by All-Star starter Carl Crawford.
And a small dose of the kind of situational hitting they slowly seem to be rediscovering.
"It's getting back to what it looked like earlier in the season," manager Joe Maddon said.
When the Red Sox last came to town, they pretty much spoiled the Rays' party, a three-game late May sweep sending them into a 12-20 tumble that knocked them from first place in the AL East (by a six-game margin) to third. These Red Sox, thanks to a mind-numbing string of injuries that swelled their disabled list to 11, are nothing like those. The Rays (49-33) didn't have it much easier but did win for the fifth time in six games.
Down 5-1 lead after the poor outing by Garza — who, for what it's worth, said he threw "all right" — the Rays battled their way back on two fronts.
First was the bullpen brigade, headed by Andy Sonnanstine, who, despite allowing the second homer of Eric Patterson's career night, cooled the Sox and got the Rays back in the game.
What followed was impressive as Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Randy Choate, Joaquin Benoit and still-not-an-All-Star Rafael Soriano, who logged his AL-high-matching 22nd save in 23 chances, allowed just two hits over the final four innings.
The two biggest outs came in the seventh when Balfour, after loading the bases, struck out Adrian Beltre and Choate followed by fanning J.D. Drew — and picking up the win for his five-pitch night.
"Everyone basically did their job," Choate said.
The offense still isn't clicking properly — 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position — but the Rays are finding a way to do enough.
In the fifth, they got two runs on two singles, a double, a sac fly and a passed ball. In the sixth, two more on a single by John Jaso after they loaded the bases on a double, walk and a perfectly executed — and badly misplayed by Boston — bunt by Jason Bartlett.
The go-ahead run in the seventh started with a single by Matt Joyce and another by Sean Rodriguez. Carlos Peña moved the runners with a groundout, and Bartlett delivered a sac fly.
Maddon, a bit cautiously, said he sees good signs. "I'm seeing the confidence come back up in the moment," he said. "You can sit in the dugout when it's not happening and as much as you want to exhort and 'Let's go' and 'Atta boy' and 'C'mon,' you just know it's not going to work because there's a lack of believability."
Now Maddon says the hitters are again showing they feel they can do it, and "all of a sudden you get on that good wave again."
If that's the case, there might be good reason to believe in the Rays making another run.
"Coming out of Minnesota with three out of four and in the first game of such a big series for us, it's definitely a confidence booster," Choate said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.