NEW YORK — There were bigger hits in Sunday's 10-6 series-clinching win over the Mets, such as the massive two-run homer B.J. Upton hit to put the Rays ahead to stay.
There were bigger momentum shifts, such as the way they rebounded after Joe Nelson gave up the lead in the sixth (and ended up with the win).
There were certainly bigger performances, such as Upton, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria combining for an 11-hit, six-run, seven-RBI parade at the top of the order and relievers Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell teaming to get the last eight outs.
But there may have been no bigger moment than the fifth-inning pinch-hit single by Willy Aybar that started them on their way to victory — which was only made possible by a poor start by Jeff Niemann, freeing manager Joe Maddon to go to the bench that early.
"That was a big moment in today's game," Maddon said. "That turned the tide right around. That gave us a strong sense of belonging right there and put (the Mets) in a totally different mind-set."
With the Rays down 2-0 after a Mets rally built on a passed ball and a wild pitch, and not doing much against Mike Pelfrey, Maddon saw a chance to get back in the game when Jason Bartlett and Dioner Navarro opened the fifth with singles.
Had Niemann been pitching better, Maddon would have left him in and let him bunt, knowing there was a chance that wouldn't go well and the rally thwarted. But Niemann had walked four and already thrown 78 pitches. Knowing the bullpen had today's off-day to rest, Maddon made what he said wasn't that tough of a call and what Niemann — who felt "just a little off" — said later was absolutely the right decision.
"It worked out perfectly," Niemann said. "That was the turning point of the game."
Aybar made Maddon look good with a sharp single that loaded the bases, and he looked even better when Upton doubled in two runs and Crawford singled in two more as the Rays went up 4-2.
Nelson messed things up briefly when he came in with two on and one out in the sixth. He threw one fastball that Brian Schneider, a friend whom he lives near and works out with in the West Palm Beach area, looked at, then another that Schneider knocked over the rightfield wall. "He destroyed it," Nelson said.
But the Rays (37-34), determined to salvage a .500 road trip after wasting opportunities in two losses in Colorado, battled back again. Pat Burrell, booed loudly each day for his previous exploits against the Mets, started the seventh with a pinch-hit single, and by the time the Rays were done, they had sent 10 to the plate, scored four and taken an 8-6 lead.
Upton had the big hit — literally — just the third ball to have landed in the second deck above leftfield at spacious new Citi Field. "B.J.'s home run was magnificent," Maddon said. "That ball was properly well-struck."
A Crawford single and Longoria double led to a run, and Gabe Kapler's pinch-hit double knocked in the fourth. The bullpen, on a pretty good roll lately, took it from there.
Having played through two delays — an injury to plate umpire Jerry Crawford and 34 more minutes of rain — and for 4½ hours, the Rays headed home feeling pretty good about what they were able to do.
"It finally feels good to put it together when we needed to," Upton said, "all around."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.