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Rays 4, Red Sox 2

Rays take finale in 14 innings

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 11, 2008
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The park was emptying, the clock ticking past midnight. The bodies were moving toward the exits, the faces looking back longingly at a game that seemed to have no desire to end. But the ones still there, lasting through a mid-September chill and 14 tense innings, watched intently as Mike Timlin - the sixth pitcher of the night for the Red Sox - could not do what the other five had done.

With two outs in the 14th, Carlos Peña smashed a home run into the Monster seats as the remainder of that crowd headed for the exits. Peña, a Sox castoff who wanted nothing more than to beat his former team, took a fastball out off Timlin, also scoring Akinori Iwamura and Rocco Baldelli.

"Nobody could push a run across," manager Terry Francona said, "and unfortunately for us they pushed three."

With the win, their second straight in dramatic fashion in this series, the Rays moved 2 1/2 games up on the Sox in the American League East, with a 4-2 decision. It was close, it was taut, it might as well have been the postseason.

"I made some good pitches," Timlin said. "Gave up a couple hits. Threw a good sinker away, not sure how he lifted it. I thought it was a popup. I was extremely surprised; it was a good pitch."

It was a sentiment echoed by Francona, who said, "He didn't miss with that pitch. That was off the plate."

But it wasn't over.

Troy Percival, the Rays' closer, had a bit of a problem. He couldn't find the strike zone. After Jacoby Ellsbury led off the bottom of the 14th with a double, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz walked to put the winning run at the plate in the form of Kevin Youkilis. And Percival was done, led off the field not feeling right, as Jason Hammel ran in from the bullpen. Youkilis brought the Sox closer with a sacrifice fly, his 100th RBI of the season, but that was it, as Boston fell in 5 hours 2 minutes as the last train pulled out of Kenmore Station.

"You're kind of glad you're at home because you always have that last at-bat," Francona said. "But then we gave up the multiple runs, and that made it tougher. I tell you what, to that point so many people did so many things - on both sides of the field. I thought our bullpen was outstanding, I thought their bullpen was outstanding."

Matching each other pitch for pitch and inning for inning, both bullpens proved excellent at extricating themselves from situations. Because it wasn't as if there weren't base runners - the Rays left 13; the Sox 16 - but the relievers got out of their jams.

"I'll take the effort," Jason Varitek said. "We lost this game, but I'll take the effort and the opportunities we had."

As the game crept forward, inning after inning, home plate remained pristine. No one had crossed since way back in the third inning, back when Josh Beckett and Andy Sonnanstine still manned the mound, before the pinch hitters and pitching changes, the outstanding defensive plays, and the third catcher entered for the Red Sox.

They got to the point of laughing in the dugout, or at least Coco Crisp did. Anything can happen, clearly, when it reaches the 12th inning. Because, instead of hitting one of his signature walkoff home runs, Ortiz dropped a bunt toward the pitcher. It was a sacrifice, pitcher to first, and moved Pedroia into scoring position. Ortiz hadn't converted a sacrifice since 2001.

But nothing came of it, as Jason Bay struck out and Alex Cora lined out, and it was on to the 13th. The Sox had put multiple base runners on in the ninth and 10th, in the 11th and 12th, in the 14th. And in none of the them, save for that one run in the 14th, could they get anyone across.

That's not even counting the kooky plays. Three times Francona had a beef with the umpires, as he contested a fan-interference call on a Mike Lowell ball in the second, an out call on Youkilis at second base, and another out call on Ellsbury in the ninth (on which he looked safe on replay). There was exercise for the manager, but there were no reversals.

And though it was difficult to remember by the last pitch, Beckett started this one, in his second appearance since having elbow trouble. Though still on a bit of a short leash - he lasted just six innings and 84 pitches - Beckett performed well. He allowed six hits and one run, striking out seven. But by the time the final out was recorded, by the time the park finally emptied, he was a very distant memory.

So, instead of inching closer to the Rays in the division, the Sox fell further behind. They won the first game of the series, climbing within a half-game, but fell the final two nights.

The Rays hadn't won in Fenway this season, and now they have won twice. The Red Sox, though, were hardly weeping. They weren't even looking toward Monday, when they can try to take their revenge at Tropicana Field. Instead, they were pointed toward this weekend, toward Toronto, and trying to take the best they could from the past two nights.

"If we play that way, we're going to win our fair share of those games," Varitek said. "It was a good baseball game, both nights. All three nights."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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