ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - There was one bit of solace for the Red Sox last night. As much as it hurt to lose big to the Rays, giving away both a game in the standings and the American League East tiebreaker, it didn't hurt nearly as much as it did for the large bald man whose head slammed into the top of the home dugout in the seventh inning.
At least that man, who appeared to be tasered and was led away by security, got to leave the debacle before its dispiriting end. For the Rays, it was another story, their second consecutive series win against the Sox, bringing them two wins from clinching their first postseason berth.
Even the Sox, through no good deeds of their own, got a step closer to the playoffs. With Minnesota losing yet again, the Sox' magic number slid to four with 10 games to play. It certainly wasn't because of their play last night, or their pitching, which gave up three home runs in a 10-3 loss at Tropicana Field.
"They're good," David Ortiz said. "They whoop your [butt]. That's what they've been doing all year, with everybody. Home, those close games, they fight. Can't take nothing for granted when you play those guys."
And last night, against Tim Wakefield, the Rays certainly came prepared. While Willy Aybar's preparation for the knuckleballer appears to have been hitting bottle caps with sticks back in the Dominican Republic, it worked. With the Sox already on top in the first after a two-run shot by Ortiz, his first of two homers, the Rays came right back in the bottom of the inning, with the switch-hitting Aybar batting from the right side.
"Before the home run, we were joking around in the dugout," said the Rays' Carlos Peña. "A popular game in the Dominican Republic is to play hit the bottle cap with the stick. So I'm like, 'Hey, man, let me tell you something. He's played a lot of bottle caps with sticks, man. This is a good matchup right here.' Boom, he hits a home run."
Boom, indeed. With Jason Bartlett aboard, and Akinori Iwamura already home, Aybar gave the Rays a lead they wouldn't relinquish. The ball sailed out to left field, making it 3-2, and the Rays never looked back. It was a win that meant more than just another game lead in the East, which now stands at two. It was a win that earned the Rays the season series at 10-8, giving Tampa the tiebreaker if the teams finish with the same record.
"They're not the team we're used to playing," Wakefield said. "They're very, very good. They're not a team to take for granted now."
The Rays didn't stop with Aybar's homer. Despite coming off his best start of the season (eight innings, three hits, no runs against Toronto), Wakefield couldn't continue his success at Tropicana Field, where he was 9-2 with a 2.45 ERA. (Though perhaps it was because it felt like a different stadium, the sellout crowd of 36,048 changing the atmosphere.) Gabe Gross and Fernando Perez went back to back off the knuckleballer in the second. And Wakefield could get just one out in the third, leaving after Evan Longoria doubled, and giving the inning over to three relievers.
Helped by errors from Devern Hansack and Javier Lopez, the Rays batted around in the third, and upped their lead to 8-2. But the six-run advantage stood only until the first batter of the fourth stepped to the plate.
The ball, once again, was smoked. And again, it didn't come down. With Ortiz having hit that first-inning home run off Matt Garza, he added a second in the fourth. This one he got all of. Like Jason Bay's homer Monday, Ortiz's ball never came down after hitting the D-ring catwalk. It was the fourth time a ball had stayed in a catwalk in the stadium's history, and the second time in three days.
So much for Ortiz's career 0 for 8 against Garza. That was gone in one at-bat, and obliterated in his second. Ortiz said after the game that his hand felt good. It showed.
"He put on a show in [batting practice], and it was nice to see it carry over into the game," manager Terry Francona said.
Ortiz came to bat for the third time with two men aboard in the fifth, and Grant Balfour relieved Garza. The deficit was still five runs, but one swing could have made it two. It looked as if Ortiz was on Balfour's pitches, fouling a couple straight back, but even he acknowledged that "they were tough pitches to hit, 96 [miles per hour], up and in." Credit was due, and he gave it.
"David had swung the bat so well his first two at-bats," Francona said. "I'm sure they felt the same way; that's why Balfour was in the game. It was a huge at-bat. If David can hit another one - which I know is asking a lot, but he took some terrific swings - that was a huge out for them to get."
And a huge win for them to get. But Ortiz's performance, like Josh Beckett's the night before, might have been as huge a boost for the Sox and their designated hitter. Still, while Ortiz didn't seem concerned about whether the Sox would win the wild card or the division, saying, "If you're in, you're in," that didn't change how much it meant for the Rays to again take two games from the Sox.
"They look like they're ready to go," Ortiz said. "They're playing like they have nothing to lose, and that's dangerous. That's dangerous."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.