ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays are still celebrating the 162d game of the 2011 season, that crazy night when they beat the Yankees to knock the Red Sox out of the playoffs.
There’s a section in Tropicana Field called “162 Landing” and the scoreboard shows highlights of games that day. Even the elevators are decorated with photographs of the Rays celebrating.
Nearly a year later, the Red Sox exacted a touch of revenge. Aaron Cook pitched six solid innings and Jacoby Ellsbury homered and drove in three runs in a 5-2 victory Monday night.
“You can find motivation in a lot of different places,” said Jarrod Saltalamacchia after the Sox won for the third time in four games. “The biggest thing is you want to win every game you can. But I’m sure for some guys it’s a little nicer to beat one of the teams still trying to get somewhere.”
The Rays have lost six of seven and Game 162 will probably be as meaningless to them as it will be for the Red Sox. With 15 games left, the Rays are 5½ games out in the American League East and fading in the wild-card race.
Cook (4-10) allowed one run on five hits to get his first win since Aug. 6. The sinkerball specialist had success mixing in a cut fastball. It was the most he has varied his pitches this season.
“It’s one of those pitches that’s really starting to open up the outside part of the plate and I can keep them honest inside,” said Cook, who took cutter lessons from Jon Lester and Josh Beckett earlier this season.
Said catcher Ryan Lavarnway: “To be honest, we probably got more outs on pitches other than sinkers. Aaron really was a pitcher tonight.”
Rich Hill and Junichi Tazawa each struck out two in perfect innings of relief. Tazawa has thrown 7⅔ shutout innings in his last eight appearances, giving up one hit and one walk and striking out 14.
“Can’t throw the ball any better than he’s thrown it. It’s impossible,” manager Bobby Valentine said.
Tazawa, speaking through interpreter Jeff Cutler, was modest when asked about the life on his fastball this season. Teammates have said it’s a nasty pitch, but Tazawa only grinned when asked if that were the case.
“So far the results have been there. I hope it continues that way,” he said. “I don’t want to get complacent. I want to make sure my head is in the right place and I control everything.”
Mark Melancon also struck out two in the ninth inning after allowing a run. By then, most in the crowd of 11,722 had left the park.
Alex Cobb, a 24-year-old righthander, took a no-hitter into the sixth inning for the Rays. The only base runner for the Sox came in the second when Saltalamacchia drew a two-out walk.
The sixth inning was a rocky one for Cobb, who threw 24 pitches and lost a 1-0 lead along with his no-hitter.
After striking out Scott Podsednik, Cobb hit light-hitting Jose Iglesias with a fastball. Iglesias was on the move when Pedro Ciriaco grounded to shortstop and took second.
With Ellsbury up, Iglesias took third on a wild pitch that didn’t get far from Jose Molina.
“Iggy kind of ignited us,” Valentine said.
Cobb then left a 3-and-1 fastball up and over the inner half of the plate and Ellsbury lined it into the seats in right field for his fourth home run.
“Trying to put a good at-bat together, that was the main thing,” said Ellsbury, who stepped out of the box a few times to disrupt Cobb’s rhythm.
Cobb and Molina got into a heated discussion in the dugout after the inning.
“I honestly don’t know what the argument was about,” Cobb said.
“We will work things out.”
The Sox knocked Cobb (9-9) out of the game in the seventh inning when James Loney singled to center and Saltalamacchia walked on six pitches. Rays manager Joe Maddon went to righthander Burke Badenhop to face Lavarnway and he induced a grounder to shortstop.
It should have been a double play, especially with Lavarnway running. But Ben Zobrist fumbled the ball and the Sox had the bases loaded with no outs.
Maddon summoned lefthander J.P. Howell and Valentine countered with righthanded-hitting Mauro Gomez instead of Podsednik. The rookie lined a two-strike sinker into left field to give the Sox a 4-1 lead.
Iglesias bunted the runners over. Maddon then made the curious move of intentionally walking Ciriaco to get to Ellsbury.
“I don’t think you see a lot of times where you walk ’em to get to Ells,” Valentine said. “I don’t mind him coming up with the bases loaded.”
Ellsbury has hit lefthanders (.309 with a .687 OPS) better than he has righthanders this season (.243 with a .674 OPS) and he dropped an RBI single into left field.
Ellsbury said seeing Ciriaco get walked provided some extra motivation.
“I like that,” he said. “I always like that mentality in any situation . . . You’re not always going to have success in that situation but it only adds to my focus.”
Ellsbury was 3 for 5 and is 14 for his last 38 (.368) with two homers and six RBIs.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.