Big inning, bigger rally, biggest win: Lucky seventh inning lifts Rays over Sox

It took a dash of speed, a bit of patience and another contribution from The Rookie.

The home crowd roared with approval, rocking the building that has never seen a summer like this.

Sweeping the defending world champion Boston Red Sox for the second time this season would have been enough. But the Tampa Bay Rays decided to add a twist by throwing in all the drama and thrills the capacity crowd could handle.

Silent for most of the evening, they ran roughshod over four Boston relievers during a six-run seventh inning. The result? A 7-6 victory that won’t be forgotten any time soon.

“That was wonderful,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Whenever you have a chance to add on against the Red Sox, you must.”

The lead in the American League East is now 3 ½ games. Baseball’s best record is now 52-32.

Both were padded by inning that encapsulated these 2008 Rays, one where everyone contributed to the cause.

It began with Jason Bartlett, the No.9 hitter who sent a lead-off double into the right-field corner. Then he stole third.

Next was Akinori Iwamura, whose speed turned a potential run-scoring groundout into a rally-furthering infield single. Then Carl Crawford singled.

B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena? Both walked — gifts from Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, David Aardsma and Javier Lopez, four Red Sox relievers who combined to throw just 25 of 54 pitches for strikes.

Then Evan Longoria, already blazing a trail toward the American League Rookie of the Year Award, laced a two-run double to left-center field.

“He threw it right over the middle,” Longoria said of Hansen’s offering.

Down 4-1 entering the inning, the Rays were up 5-4. The 36,048 fans who made up the fourth sold-out crowd to pack Tropicana Field this waved their brooms and roared with delight.

The Rays had a feeling this was coming – especially after the Red Sox removed starter Daisuke Matsuzaka after five innings. The righty walked five, but he fanned five, too, and limited the Rays to two hits.

“We just had to get him out of the game,” said Longoria, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs. “We knew the sooner we’d get him out, get to the bullpen, we’d have a better chance.”

The Rays weren’t done. With two outs and the bases loaded, Bartlett capped off what he started by singling in two more runs.It was an eye-popping turnaround, emblematic of the one the Rays have been crafting since the beginning of spring training.

“You here the horror stories from the last 10 years about what’s been going on here,” Longoria said. “To be part of the turnaround and part of the change is a good feeling.”

And it was held in place by a bullpen that is the furthest thing from full strength.

Starter Scott Kashmir lasted just five innings — a gateway to disaster in seasons past.

Not this season. Trever Miller, Gary Glove and Dan Wheeler teamed to keep the Red Sox at bay for four innings. Glover earned the win, and with closer Troy Percival serving his second stint on the disabled list this season, Wheeler pitched out of trouble in the ninth and recorded four outs for the save.

It wasn’t all neat and tidy — the Rays committed two errors, giving them five over the final two games of the series. And Kazmir needed 107 pitches just to get out of the fifth inning.

But the Rays rallied and won. Another capacity crowd left happy.

A big inning led to perhaps the biggest win in team history.

And just think: 2008 is only halfway over.