ST. PETERSBURG — The ball struck by Stephen Drew rolled up the third base line and into foul territory. Then it rolled back across the foul line and came to a stop.
Of course it was. That’s how it’s been going for the Tampa Bay Rays during these last few weeks.
Now the tying run was on first base in the ninth inning and Mike Carp was coming to the plate.
In the dugout, Rays manager Joe Maddon had this thought: “It’s not happening tonight. That’s it. It ain’t going to happen.”
And it didn’t.
Fernando Rodney was able to shutdown the Boston Red Sox rally Thursday and the Rays held on for a 4-3 victory in front of 20,360 at Tropicana Field.
The victory, just the Rays’ fifth in their last 18 games, enabled them to remain one game head of the New York Yankees for the American League’s final wild card spot.
The Clevland Indians remained 1 1/2 games back. But the Orioles, who lost to the Yankees, joined the Royals, who were off, at 2 1/2 games behind the Rays.
“We needed a win bad,” said Wil Myers, whose eighth-inning double scored Evan Longoria with the winning run. “With the wild card getting tight, we needed a win here.”
Longoria, who reached on a double and scored when Myers’ hit landed just inside the right field foul line, called it a “very important” victory.
“They’re all important moving forward,” Longoria said, “but against Boston, someone that we’re chasing in a basically a must-win game, I felt that way.”
The breaks that had gone against the Rays during these past 18 games finally went their way Thursday.
After Drew’s hit, Rodney walked Carp to put the tying and go-ahead runs on base, and Will Middlebrooks followed with a laser of a line drive that was hit directly at Longoria.
There’s a break.
Myers’ ball was inches from being foul. There’s another break.
After losing the first two games of the series, including Wednesday’s crushing loss on Carp’s 10th-inning grand slam, the Rays needed Thursday’s win as much to enhance their standings in the playoff chase as for some peace of mind as they boarded the charter flight to Minneapolis for this weekend’s three-game series with the Twins.
“(Wednesday’s) outcome was unfortunate but to be able to come back and bounce back from the heartbreak from (Wednesday), to be able to turn the page and get a win was huge,” Longoria said.
And the win was a product of a formula not seen much around the Trop lately.
Starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson allowed three runs but kept the Rays in the game during his 5 1/3 innings. Jamey Wright came on and allowed the tying run to score, but for the most part, the bullpen did its job.
James Loney, moved to third in the order because of his .321 lifetime average against Red Sox starter Jake Peavy, doubled in a run, and Desmond Jennings, who has had his share of struggles lately at the plate and in the field, homered in the fourth inning to give the Rays a 3-1 lead.
Perhaps most important of all was that Longoria and Myers combined for two big runs - one in the second inning when Longoria tripled and scored on a single by the rookie and again in the eighth when they combined for the winning run.
“It’s going to come back to us,” Maddon said of the breaks. “It’s going to come back at the right time, and we’re going to get really hot at exactly the right time, because that’s just the way this work. We’re good enough to get hot again.”
And when that happens, Maddon said, “We’re looking forward to playing (the Red Sox) again in the playoffs.”
Myers was batting with two outs in the eighth when he lifted a pitch from Matt Thornton down the right field line. Boston right fielder Daniel Nava was not going to get to the ball on the fly.
The only question was: fair or foul?
“I wasn’t sure,” Myers said. “As soon as I hit it, I knew it was going to fall. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be fair or not. But as it was coming down, I thought it had a chance. And sure enough, honestly, I think it hit the line. Maybe that’s some luck turning around for us.”
Maddon said he watched for the signal from first base umpire Gary Cederstrom. And what did Maddon say in the dugout when Cederstrom pointed fair?
“I would say hallelujah is a pretty good word right there,” Maddon said.
For a reason Longoria said he couldn’t explain, he had a gut feeling the ball would stay fair even though recent history said it would go foul and the scoring opportunity would pass.
“It’s tough to really not dwell on those moments, because we’ve had it seems like an infinite number of plays or balls that were hit or pitches that were made that could have gone in a different direction,” Longoria said, “so for one to finally fall in a crucial game for us hopefully turns the tide.”