Rays rout Red Sox to extend lead in AL East
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—Baseball’s feel-good story of the year is on the verge of getting even better.
“I wouldn’t expect too much else from this team,” rookie Fernando Perez said after he, Willy Aybar and Gabe Gross homered off Tim Wakefield to pace the rout before a sellout crowd of 36,048 at Tropicana Field.
“The way this team is put together, it isn’t put together like the Yankees. It isn’t a hoard of superstars that are expected to do well,” Perez added. “This team is built on solid pitching and unity. Nobody sticks out. To see us win a game, everybody comes in and does something. We don’t have the personalities that stand in the way of that.”
Matt Garza gave up two long home runs to David Ortiz, but the Rays otherwise held the Red Sox in check to win the season series against the defending World Series champions 10-8 and extend their division lead over them to two games.
Tampa Bay, which had never won more than 70 games in a season before this year, can clinch at least a wild-card playoff berth by beating Minnesota twice during a four-game series that begins here Thursday.
“They’re good,” Ortiz said. “They’re playing like they have nothing to lose, and that’s dangerous.”
The Rays (90-60) became the sixth time in major league history to win 90 games immediately following a stretch of at least 10 consecutive losing seasons. The others are the 1912 Washington Senators, 1914 Boston Braves, 1956 Cincinnati Reds, 1979 Montreal Expos and 2006 Detroit Tigers.
The Red Sox, who lost four of six to Tampa Bay over the past 10 days, dropped a road series for the first time since being swept by the Los Angeles Angels on July 18-20. Their eight losses to the Rays at Tropicana Field are the most they’ve had in a season road series since they went 1-8 at Yankee Stadium in 2001.
“They’re not the team we’re used to playing. They’re very, very good,” Wakefield said. “They’re not a team to take for granted right now.”
Aybar, who was 3-for-5 with three RBIs, hit a two-run homer off Wakefield (9-11) in the first inning. Aybar drove in the last of the six runs charged to the knuckleballer with a third-inning single off Devern Hansack.
Gross and Perez homered two pitches apart in the second. Perez also had RBI single in the third, when the Rays built their lead to 8-2.
Ortiz hit a two-run homer in the first and added his 21st of the season, a solo shot off that remained lodged in one of the catwalks that support the roof of the domed stadium, in the third.
And although the Red Sox still trailed 8-3, the homers turned out to be enough to keep Garza from getting the win.
Rays manager Joe Maddon lifted his starter with two on and two out in the fifth, with Ortiz strolling to the plate with a chance to get Boston back in the game. The slugger worked the count to 3-2 against Grant Balfour (5-2) before flying out near the warning track in center field.
Garza allowed three runs and five hits in 4 2-3 innings. Wakefield, whose 19 career victories against Tampa Bay are tied with Mike Mussina for the most by a Rays opponent, gave up six runs and six hits in 2 1-3 innings.
Although the Rays could clinch a playoff spot as early as this weekend, Maddon doesn’t want his young team to be satisfied with that.
“Our focus has always been the to win the East. … Regardless of what happens over the next couple of days, I want our focus to be that,” Maddon said. “At the end of this regular season, it’s about moving forward with home-field advantage. You look at our record at home, and we want to play as many games as possible here.”
Some unruly fans were removed from the stands in the eighth inning. Play stopped briefly at one point while players watched police and stadium security handcuff a fan behind the Rays dugout. … The Red Sox played without 3B Mike Lowell, who sat out because of a sore right hip, and LF Jason Bay, who traveled to Boston for the birth of his daughter, Evelyn Jane, on Tuesday. Lowell felt more soreness and stiffness in his hip making a barehanded pickup and throw on a slow roller in Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Rays. … Tampa Bay improved to a major league-best 55-22 at home and needs two more wins to finish with the most home victories by a team since the Yankees went 65-16 in 1998. … Wakefield was trying to join Roger Clemens as the only pitchers with 10 or more wins in 10 different seasons with Boston. … Ortiz has seven consecutive 20-homer seasons, six with the Red Sox.