Johnson, scratched from Tampa Bay’s starting lineup because he didn’t get into town until just before the first pitch, hit a game-tying, pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning, and Dioner Navarro doubled in the go-ahead run to help the Rays beat Boston 5-4 Tuesday night and extend their division lead.
“Sometimes things work out just in your favor,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who credited the victory to the airline that flew Johnson to Boston. “It’s a pretty significant win, particularly here, what’s been going on (and) where we’re at in the race.”
The Rays had lost four straight and six of seven games—and the Red Sox had won six of seven, including a 3-0 victory in the series opener—to cut Tampa Bay’s division lead from 5 1/2 games to just a half-game.
With a victory Tuesday, the Red Sox could have moved into first place for the first time since June 28; instead, the Rays are 1 1/2 up and assured of leading the AL East when they begin a weekend series against the New York Yankees on Friday.
It was the first win for a road team in the season series between the Red Sox and Rays, who finish up the series on Wednesday and have Thursday off. Boston holds a six-game lead in the AL wild-card standings over Minnesota, which beat Kansas City.
“If it comes down to them winning the home field by one game, maybe we’ll look back at this game,” said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who homered. “But we’ll see.”
Tampa Bay took a 3-1 lead in the fourth and still led 3-2 with two outs in the eighth when Dan Wheeler (4-5) walked Kevin Youkilis and then Jason Bay barely cleared the Green Monster to give Boston the lead. Bay, acquired at the trade deadline, homered for the third straight game.
But Jonathan Papelbon (5-4) blew a save opportunity for the fifth time this season.
“Jason’s home run gave us a good feeling and we have all the confidence in the world in Pap,” Lowell said. “But Pap’s a human being. He’s been so good for three years, it’s almost like he’s automatic.”
Johnson got a call at 9 a.m. telling him he was being called up from Triple-A Durham, which was set to open the International League’s championship series against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Most of the planes out of Scranton were grounded due to the weather, but he found a seat on a much-delayed early morning flight to Philadelphia.
After buying a pair of shoes in the airport—he’d only packed a couple of T-shirts for Durham’s two-day road trip—he got on a plane scheduled to land in Boston at 4:30. It didn’t arrive until closer to 6:30, about 30 minutes before game time.
“It’s been real hectic, so there’s not really much time to reflect,” he said. “It went from not being able to hit in the cage, to not being able to loosen up my arm. I’m just cutting things off, saying, ‘Well, maybe I’ll be able to swing in on deck.”’
Johnson made it into the game as a pinch-hitter in the ninth, hitting a drive over the Red Sox bullpen in right to tie it. One out later, Fernando Perez doubled and Navarro did the same to make it 5-4.
Troy Percival pitched the ninth for his 28th save. Wheeler earned the victory despite coughing up the lead, allowing two runs in the eighth inning.
The Rays stranded 12 in the first eight innings, going 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position before Navarro’s double in the ninth.
Tampa Bay brought up Johnson and C Michael Hernandez from Durham and designated INF Joel Guzman for assignment. … The Red Sox recalled RHP Bartolo Colon from his rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket and sent RHP David Aardsma on a rehab assignment to Class-A Lowell of the New York-Penn League. … The game was delayed for a couple of minutes in the fifth when plate umpire Mark Wegner went for a new mask after being hit by a foul tip.