BOSTON — Down six runs after two innings, facing Red Sox ace Chris Sale and playing a holiday matinee after a Sunday night arrival, the Rays were going to need something special to salvage Monday’s game.
So there was 41-year-old DH Nelson Cruz, racing around the bases to complete a “Little League” grand slam — four runs scoring on two errors — to get them back into the game as part of his huge day.
And rookie sensation Wander Franco rapping a career-best four hits and scoring three times as he put his name with Mickey Mantle’s in extending his on-base streak to 36 games.
And Austin Meadows delivering the game-tying run in the ninth in dramatic and entertaining style, staggering to the plate for an inside-the-park homer as the dugout erupted.
And Randy Arozarena and Jordan Luplow knocking in runs; catcher Mike Zunino making run-saving plays; Collin McHugh, who escaped a bases-loaded jam in the 10th, and the other relievers covering eight innings after Ryan Yarbrough’s miserable two-inning start.
By the end of the nearly five-hour Labor Day game, the Rays were celebrating an emotional and inspiring 11-10, 10-inning victory.
“That’s the biggest win of the year, for sure,” Meadows said. “Regarding the circumstances, especially getting in late (Sunday) night and coming into a day game, guys are tired.
“But just like I’ve said all year, we just find a way. Even being down pretty big early, we just continued to grind at-bats and have each other’s back. Obviously it worked out for us. ... Hopefully we can keep it going, but that was something we’ll cherish.”
And relish, as the Rays improved their American League-leading record to 87-51 and increased their East division lead to a season-high 8 1/2 games over the Yankees, who lost again, with 24 left to play.
Cruz did the most of anyone. He hit the ball that was initially scored a bases-loaded triple and changed to an error (to the Rays’ dismay) that scored four in the fourth and cut the lead to 7-5. He hit a 406-foot solo homer over the Green Monster in the eighth that cut the margin to 9-8. And he hit a hard single off first baseman’s Franchy Cordero’s glove that scored the go-ahead run in the 10th, then took an extra base so he could score the decisive run on Brandon Lowe’s ensuing single.
“He had a lot of impressive bats today,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Nelly’s doing what we got him here to do. He’s picking up runs, he’s having good at-bats, his leadership. I know it’s been quiet here over the last couple of weeks but seems like he really rose to the occasion big time, multiple times, today for us.”
Cruz had fun talking about running around all the bases, joking that he is always telling third-base coach Rodney Linares to send everybody so he figured he had to lead by example and keep running until he got thrown out or to home.
“That was fun,” he said. “I definitely enjoy to play like a kid. That’s the way you should play.”
But he also noted the importance of not only his go-ahead single in the 10th, but his awareness to take second when ex-Ray Hunter Renfroe’s throw was off target to be in position to score the extra run that turned out to matter. “That was definitely the biggest play of the game,” he said.
Of all the things that lined up for the Rays on Monday, having two rallies keyed by Cruz’s base running may have been the most unexpected. “I think Nelly sometimes thinks he’s invisible out there,” Cash said. “I’m not exactly sure what he’s doing but we’ll take it today.”
The most exciting play, at least based on the Rays who jumped out of the dugout, was Meadows’ dash around the bases after his ball also hit off the wall and eluded centerfielder Alex Verdugo.
“That took it out of me, that’s for sure,” said Meadows, 26. “I was telling the guys my legs almost gave out when I was rounding third. So I was trying to just pump through it, just get through it and make it home.”
For the Rays, it turned out to be a holiday with a lot to celebrate, as they notched their majors-leading 43rd come-from-behind win.
“It was a crazy, wild game,” Cruz he said. “It wasn’t pretty. ... At the end, it was beautiful. But we found a way to score, and the bullpen also did a good job. ...
“We find a way to just get it done. No matter who’s in the lineup, who’s starting the game, we all prepare for any situation. And today was a great example.”
By the numbers
0-69 Rays’ record before Monday when trailing Red Sox by six or more runs, per ESPN
3 Inside-the-park home runs for Rays this season (by Kevin Kiermaier, Brett Phillips, Austin Meadows)
4:54 Hours, minutes of Monday’s game, the Rays’ longest of season
8 1/2 Season-high games ahead in American League East for Rays
11.25 Ryan Yarbrough’s ERA against Red Sox this season (five games)
19 Hits by Rays, most in a game this season
20 Games, of his first 59, in which Wander Franco has multiple hits
36 Consecutive games in which Wander Franco has reached base
43 Come-from-behind wins by Rays, most in majors
49.4 Percentage of wins in which Rays have trailed at some point
273 Runs scored by Rays from the seventh inning on, most in the majors
404 Total pitches thrown by both teams
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