As the Rays came to bat in the bottom of the fifth inning Friday night, it looked like it was going to be another one of those frustrating nights that has kept them from getting on a roll this season.
The pitching from Andy Sonnanstine hadn't been great, but he had kept the Red Sox sufficiently in check that even a modest offensive output would have been enough to put the Rays on top. To that point, they had come up empty. Justin Masterson was "pretty much dominating," according to Evan Longoria, and nursing a two-run lead past the game's halfway point.
Then, the Rays had about as efficient an inning as a team could ask for. Every man in the order came to bat in the bottom of the fifth, with six of them ultimately coming around to score. The Rays even made use of their outs to nearly the fullest extent possible, with two of the three men retired in the inning going down on a sacrifice that aided the cause.
The end result, once the Rays' bullpen took care of the balance of the game, was an impressive 6-2 victory. Wins are always welcome, of course - especially at the expense of the Red Sox. But the work Tampa Bay's hitters did to tip the balance of the game in the fifth will make for a teaching point Manager Joe Maddon can refer to all year.
Gabe Gross got it started, rapping a single back up the middle for the Rays' first hit off Masterson since B.J. Upton singled to open the bottom of the first. Akinori Iwamura followed with a walk and Dioner Navarro moved both into scoring position with a bunt in front of the plate before Masterson then drilled Jason Bartlett in the small of the back to load the bases.
Upton drove a ball to deep right-center for a sacrifice fly, with Iwamura and Bartlett hustling up 90 feet as well, and the Rays had cut the deficit to 2-1. With two out in the inning, the rally probably would have stopped right there in most games this season.
But Carl Crawford drew a walk, raising the decibel level under the Tropicana Field roof as Longoria came to the plate. He worked a nice at-bat before launching one to left-center for a stadium-rattling grand slam, the second of his big-league career. And Carlos Pena kept the celebration going two pitches later by sending a towering fly to right for his major-league-leading 10th homer.
"You're always trying to keep the inning alive," said Maddon. "It doesn't have to be a hit; it can be a walk. It can be a seven- or eight-pitch at-bat. Something that really promotes something better for the next hitter. It was a really good inning and obviously Longoria capped it off and then Carlos steps up right behind him and does the same thing."
The inning came to an anticlimactic end when Pat Burrell took a called third strike, but taken as a whole it was a clinic in patience and timely contact. The Rays waited for their pitch and took their base if it didn't come, and those who did take a cut all made a meaningful contribution.
The outburst was enough to make a winner out of Sonnanstine, who had gone 11 regular-season starts since his last victory Aug. 18. He allowed 12 men to reach base in his 52/3 innings, but only two of them scored - the typical Sonnanstine bend-but-don't-break formula that had been absent throughout April.