BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox forced the Tampa Bay Rays to play two games Thursday for whatever reasons – the Rays stumbling through the first half of this long road trip or the cases upon cases of Dustin Pedroia bobbleheads the Red Sox needed to give away.
Whatever, it worked … for the Rays.
Tampa Bay swept its first-ever doubleheader at Fenway Park, taking the first game 2-1 behind a solid job by the bullpen and the second game 6-5 on a ninth-inning home run by Yunel Escobar off closer Koji Uehara.
“It does feel good,” Ben Zobrist said. “I hope everybody enjoyed their bobbleheads.”
The first win snapped the Rays three-game losing streak. The second win gave the Rays their first winning streak since they won two from the New York Yankees on April 18 and 19.
Closer Grant Balfour saved both games, leaving the tying run in scoring position in both games.
“I think it says a lot about our resilience,” Zobrist said. “The guys, regardless of things not necessarily going our way off the field, just getting on the field (Thursday), grinding it out, pounding it out to pull this out. You got to give it to Balfour. He's tough as nails out there. I'm really proud of the way the guys battled and didn't complain throughout the day.”
Zobrist, the Rays assistant players rep, was on the phone with the union after Wednesday's game was rained out trying to have it rescheduled for later in the season. The Red Sox, though, used a provision in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows them and the Chicago Cubs to scheduled day/night doubleheaders as make-ups at their discretion despite objections by the visiting team.
“I really believe we had vociferously fought for just one game for a lot of obvious reasons,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I'm not going to hide from the reasons. We have a lot of guys injured. We've had some very difficult games more recently, so we wanted one game and pick it up later when we are at greater health. It did not work out that way, thus our players came out and made a statement (Thursday) and kind of enjoyed it.”
Jose Molina, whose tag at the plate of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia to end the seventh in Game 1, said between games that the Rays were motivated by having to play two games Thursday.
“They asked for it. That's what we came out pretty much saying,” Molina said. “Well, they want us to play today, let's beat them twice. I think they're saying, 'They're playing bad. Why not take it right now?' Well it's a different month, different day.”
Balfour, who argued with Maddon on the mound during the ninth of the first game because he wanted to pitch to David Ortiz with first base open and Pedroia on second base, said between games that winning two would not be a bad way to end the three-game series.
“Win a series in one day, that's a nice little thing to have,” he said.
David DeJesus drove in both runs in the afternoon game with a home run and a bases-loaded walk.
Cesar Ramos walked a season-high six batters and was lifted for Brandon Gomes after walking two with two outs in the fifth inning. Ramos needed one more out to qualify for the victory. Instead, Gomes was credited with the win after pitching 1 1/3 innings.
He was followed by Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Balfour as the Rays won for the fourth time this season while scoring two or fewer runs and won for the second time this season while collecting only four hits.
That Ramos was able to overcome a 35-pitch first inning when he allowed the only run of the game gave the Rays a little oomph, Maddon said.
That carried over into the second game when they got home runs from Desmond Jennings, Sean Rodriguez and Escobar.
The Rays led 2-0 and Chris Archer was sailing along going into the fifth. But Archer lost the strike zone. He walked three that inning, hit a batter – Shane Victorino with the bases-loaded to force in the Red Sox first run – and threw a wild pitch.
When the inning was over, the Red Sox led 5-2.
It was the sixth time the Rays allowed at least five runs in an inning – the fourth time through the first seven games of this trip.
Like Ramos, Archer left with two outs in the fifth.
Rays starters have now pitched five or fewer innings in 13 of the 17 games since Alex Cobb went on the disabled list.
Ramos and Archer (5 walks) combined to walk 11 batters Thursday. The entire pitching staff combined to walk 17 batters on the day.
And the Rays still won – twice.
“I'm so proud of the way the guys handled the day,” Maddon said. “No one complained about anything. Nothing. And they went out and played really good baseball for 18 innings. It was pretty astounding to watch the whole thing play out.”
Rodriguez started the comeback in the sixth inning with a two-run homer to make it a one-run game.
The Rays tied the score at 5 in the eighth when Rodriguez doubled off the wall in left field with two out and scored on a single by James Loney.
Escobar then drove the second pitch from Uehara in the ninth inning over the Green Monster to give the Rays the lead.
Balfour came on for his second save opportunity of the day.
He rebounded well in the afternoon from his April 25 meltdown in Chicago when he allowed five runs in the ninth inning for the Rays first loss on the trip. He ran into trouble in the nightcap when he allowed a double to Victorino to start the inning. Ortiz moved Victorino to third when he grounded out to Loney.
Balfour got Mike Napoli looking at 93 mph fastball for strike three for the second out. But Balfour put the winning run on base when he walked Grady Sizemore.
That brought Xander Bogaerts to the plate, and Balfour eventually got him looking at strike three to end the game.
“I made my pitches,” Balfour said, “and I was really happy with the way I finished it, especially against the hitters I faced.”
Balfour became the first pitcher to save two games in one day since Kansas City's Greg Holland against Detroit on Aug. 16, 2013.
And he did at Fenway Park.
“It's freaking awesome to do it in any stadium, but yeah, definitely against a team we're fighting with in our division, it's huge,” Balfour said.
For a team that didn't want to play two games, the Rays sure made the most of it.
“Sometimes it takes, and I'm not sure this is, but there's a really good vibe in here right now,” Balfour said. “Sometimes it takes a couple of games like that, a couple of big wins for a team to get going. Hopefully that was (Thursday), and that's where it is and we can kick off.”
The Rays continue this road trip Friday night in New York. David Price, who flew to New York on Thursday, starts for the Rays. That's not a bad way to begin a series at Yankee Stadium, especially for a team that struggled though the month of April.
Can the Rays carry the momentum generated Thursday against the Red Sox forward?
“We're going to find out,” Maddon said. “You always look at these moments. Sometimes it's a bad moment and you wonder if it's going to really take hold in a negative way. All I want to do is for us to go out (Friday night) and play another really good game of baseball. We already got David in New York. He should get some bounce from this I would think. There's also the fatigue factor. It was a really long day.”