Feel the sweep!
They were feeling it Wednesday night at sold-out Tropicana Field, those broom-waving, cowbell-clanging horn-blowing Tampa Bay Rays fans as their team finished off the Boston Red Sox 7-6 in the finale to sweep the biggest series in Rays history.
That was three-up for the Rays and three-down for the Red Sox, and all it took was a sixth-run seventh-inning rally for the Rays and a spectacular catch by B.J. Upton in center field in the ninth to squash a Red Sox rally.
“It’s great to have the sweep,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “But to do it the way we did it was spectacular.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Bradenton Herald
The victory, the Rays 52nd of the season, moved them a franchise-high 20-games above .500 and increased their lead over the second-place Red Sox to 3 1/2 games.
It also ensured the Rays will have the best record in baseball when the Kansas City Royals arrive Friday for the start of a four-game series.
Who ever imagined that?
“Maybe myself and the other 24 guys in here did,” said Evan Longoria, whose two-run double in the seventh gave the Rays their first lead of the night.
The Rays never trailed in the first two games of the series, winning 5-4 on Monday and 3-1 on Tuesday. On Wednesday, they needed a big seventh inning to overcome a 4-1 deficit — then they needed all six of those runs to hold off another ninth inning charge by the defending world champions.
“This says a lot about out character,” catcher Dioner Navarro said. “We’re never going to give up.”
The Rays have beaten the Red Sox in all six games at the Trop this season.
“They took it to us,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “We came here to win. We didn’t do a very good job.”
The Rays have lost all six in Boston, but they don’t have to deal with that issue until September.
The Red Sox built that 4-1 lead on the strength of Dustin Pedroia, who needed a single to hit for the cycle. He homered in the first, tripled and scored in the third and double and scored in the fifth as the Red Sox chased Rays starter Scott Kazmir after five innings.
Kazmir, who is normally tough on the Red Sox, allowed seven hits and walked three.
Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka also went five innings, allowing only a run in the first on an RBI single by Longoria.
It was Boston’s bullpen that caved in during the seventh. The first three pitchers Terry Francona turned to managed to record just one out. Starting with a double by Jason Bartlett, the first six Rays reached base and scored.
“We were trying to get runners on base and create something,” Navarro said. “We got people on base, and things went our way.”
But these were the Red Sox, and the Red Sox never go quietly. They proved that during their final two at-bats.
They added a run in the eighth when Julio Lugo walked and scored on a two-out double by Pedroia.
They added another in the ninth off Dan Wheeler when Manny Ramirez reached second on a throwing error by Bartlett and scored on a single by Mike Lowell.
Kevin Youkilis drove Upton to the warning track in center field for a sacrifice fly that cut the Rays lead to 7-6.
But Lowell was thrown out stealing second for the second and Jason Varitek looked at a called third strike to end the game.
The three-game sweep of the Red Sox, first place, the best record in baseball, what does all this mean?
“It reaffirms to us that we can play against these guys, that we can beat the Red Sox,” Maddon said. “Now we have to prove that we can win at Fenway Park.”