ST. PETERSBURG — They're going to need more. A lot more, still 5½ games out of a playoff spot with only 12 left to play.
But for a few moments Thursday night, from when B.J. Upton swung his bat until the celebration at home plate calmed down after his three-run walkoff homer capped their six-run ninth and gave them a 7-4 win over the Red Sox, the Rays had reason to start thinking about what might be possible.
"We've been missing a little bit of that magic this year," manager Joe Maddon said. "And it doesn't get much more magical than that moment right there."
Such a scene seemed unlikely much of the night, as David Price battled into the eighth in pursuit of his 19th win but was admittedly outpitched by Boston's Clay Buchholz, and the Rays trailed 4-1 going to the ninth.
Singles by Matt Joyce, Jeff Keppinger and, after an out, Carlos Peña produced one run. Stephen Vogt's walk loaded the bases, then Desmond Jennings delivered the first big hit, a single to right-center that tied it. A pitching change and four pitches later, Upton delivered an even bigger one.
"It says a lot," Upton said. "We could definitely cash it in, but we're not. We're going to finish this thing out strong. You never know what's going to happen yet, so just keep going."
The win, just the third in their past 10 games, improved the Rays to 80-70 and moved them ahead of the Tigers and back within 5½ games of the American League wild-card co-leading A's and Orioles, and still 6½ behind the first-place Yankees in the East.
"That kept us in this race," Price said. "That was a big win for us. We needed to win that game.''
Price did what he could, working on his candidacy for the AL Cy Young Award along the way, battling into the eighth, allowing two runs and charged with a third after he left (raising his major-league-leading ERA to 2.58).
But, as has happened so often this season, the offense couldn't do much to help, held to just four hits — two that were gifts —over seven innings by Buchholz, who was so sharp that Maddon said he still would have been relieved even if Sandy Koufax (presumably not modern day) was warming up when Buchholz left with a stiff back.
"We've got to beat some good pitchers, simple as that," Maddon said. "We have to outpitch them, we have to outhit them, we just have to do those things. But we're capable. It's not like it's a stretch."
The winning rally began innocently with Joyce and Keppinger singling off Sox closer Andrew Bailey. The Rays got a break when the Sox could only get an out at first on Luke Scott's grounder, the runners moving up. Peña, down 1-and-2, worked the count full and singled in the first run. Pinch-runner Rich Thompson stole second, and Vogt, the rookie with the 0-for-19 streak, calmly worked a walk to load the bases.
Jennings slapped the first pitch to center to tie the score. Upton got ahead 2-and-0 from Vicente Padilla, then looked very bad swinging at a pitch he shouldn't have and very good on the next one, sure only that he drove it over centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury's head then realizing it cleared the wall for his 24th homer of the season, and fourth walkoff of his career.
Said Upton: "It worked out."
As the joy of their seventh walkoff win subsided, the Rays acknowledged how far they still have to go. Maddon wants them to relax and focus only on themselves rather than the convoluted what-ifs of the race, and Thursday that served them well.
"I definitely think that was the Rays magic of old," Joyce said. "And hopefully we can muster up a lot more of it in the last couple games here."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]