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Rays can't match Bosox persistence

The Red Sox had a late night Monday celebrating the clinching of at least the AL wild-card playoff spot.

Tuesday they had a late night celebrating an impressive win that enhanced their chances of winning the AL East division title.

The Sox have put together a team that is both laden with talent and loaded with determination, and the Devil Rays saw plenty of both in a frustrating 10-8, 11-inning loss.

"We kept battling and found a way to win," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "It looked like they wanted to, too."

"Our kids played their hearts out," Rays manager Lou Piniella said. "We gave it everything we had. That's a tough loss."

The Rays led 5-1 in the fourth inning, but the Red Sox quickly erased that margin. The teams traded tallies until it was 8-8 in the sixth, and it stayed that way until the top of the 11th.

Piniella wanted the win badly enough that he asked closer Danys Baez to work a third inning, the first time he went past two this season. Baez got two quick outs, but David Ortiz dropped a broken-bat double in front of diving centerfielder Rocco Baldelli.

Baez tried to work carefully against Kevin Millar, the inspirational leader of Boston's merry band. He got ahead with a sinker in, but then tried to come in with a fastball and left it over too much of the plate.

Millar, whom the Sox considered trading to the Rays in July for Jose Cruz, delivered a crushing blow, a two-run homer to left.

"One pitch, one mistake," Baez said.

The loss leaves the Rays 66-89, one game ahead of last-place Toronto and needing to win four of their six remaining games to reach a team-record 70 victories.

The Sox have higher goals. As much, and as late, as they enjoyed clinching a playoff spot, Tuesday's developments kept alive the possibility it may have been a premature celebration.

The Sox moved to within 2{ games of the first-place Yankees, who were rained out in New York and found out ace Orlando Hernandez has a sore shoulder, further depleting their shaky pitching staff with a doubleheader today against Minnesota.

"There was a chance for a letdown, but this team knows we have bigger plans on our mind," Boston's Johnny Damon said. "We keep on winning games and hope for a miracle and the Yankees struggle."

The way the game started, it looked as if the Sox might have stayed up too late Monday.

The Rays built a 5-1 lead and chased Sox starter Derek Lowe in the third, the live performance much better for them than the tape ESPN Classic showed earlier Tuesday of Lowe's April 2002 no-hitter against them. Carl Crawford stole his 58th base and scored his 102nd run, and Aubrey Huff picked up his 103rd RBI, four shy of his team record.

But the Sox made the lead disappear quickly in the fourth, Damon's bases-clearing triple the key shot. The Rays took the lead back in each of the next two innings, but the Sox kept responding. The Rays got no hits, and only one baserunner, after the fifth.

"They can hit," Baldelli said. "Against those guys, I don't care who your pitchers are; 10-1 might not be enough."