ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays are making the AL playoff race very interesting.
Evan Longoria hit an RBI single in the bottom of the 11th inning, helping the Rays rebound after blowing a ninth-inning lead to beat the Boston Red Sox 6-5 on Saturday night and pull within 4 1/2 games of the AL wild card leaders.
“We all believe we have a solid chance to do this,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Desmond Jennings opened the 11th with a triple off Daniel Bard (2-7) that lunging center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury couldn’t reach. After B.J. Upton hit a grounder to first, Longoria lined a single to center on an 0-2 pitch.
“We got there at the same time and I heard him (Ellsbury) call the ball,” Red Sox right fielder Darnell McDonald said about Jennings’ triple. “Tried to get out of the way … The ball dropped. That’s about how it’s going for us right now.”
Brandon Gomes (2-1) worked 1 1-3 perfect innings for the Rays.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ellsbury hit consecutive one-out solo homers in the ninth off closer Kyle Farnsworth to pull the Red Sox even at 5.
“It’s disappointing the way it ended, but we sure gave ourselves a chance,” Boston manager Terry Francona said.
After Dustin Pedroia doubled and Adrian Gonzalez walked, Cesar Ramos replaced Farnsworth and induced a double-play grounder from David Ortiz.
Farnsworth has blown six saves in 29 opportunities this season, including two straight outings. After the game, Maddon said Farnsworth tweaked his right elbow and will shut down for at least a few days.
Gonzalez hit his 25th homer for the Red Sox, who have lost six of seven. Ellsbury has a 15-game hitting streak.
Boston left-hander Jon Lester (15-6) and Rays right-hander James Shields (14-10) are the scheduled starters in Sunday’s series finale. Shields has 11 complete games this season, the most in the majors.
“It should be a pretty good matchup,” Francona said.
The teams begin a four-game series Thursday night at Fenway Park.
“We’ve got to stay very hot,” Maddon said. “I think we’re committed to this.”
The Rays have won 20 games in a row when scoring five or more runs, and moved a season-high 16 games over .500 (80-64).
“That was a really good gut check for us, to be able to hang in that game and pick up a must-win,” Longoria said. “These are the games we’re going to have to win if we’re going to make the playoffs.”
Tampa Bay went ahead 4-3 when Casey Kotchman hit a solo homer against reliever Alfredo Aceves during the fifth. It was Kotchman’s first homer since Aug. 12 off Yankees ace CC Sabathia.
Longoria made it 5-3 with a sacrifice fly in the sixth. He has driven in 63 runs over his last 71 games.
Gonzalez hit a two-run shot during the fifth that got Boston even at 3. Gonzalez had just seven hits, including one homer and two RBIs, in his previous 45 at-bat against the Rays this season.
Jennings drove in a run on a grounder during the second, and Kotchman gave the Rays 3-1 lead on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly one inning later.
Tampa Bay loaded the bases on two walks and a single with no outs in the first, but scored just once on Ben Zobrist’s grounder. Kyle Weiland avoided further damage by striking out Johnny Damon and getting a fly ball from Matt Joyce.
The Rays went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position against Weiland, who allowed three runs, six hits and three walks over four innings.
Boston tied it at 1 on Jed Lowrie’s second-inning RBI grounder.
Tampa Bay rookie Jeremy Hellickson allowed three runs and five hits in six innings.
Notes: Red Sox INF Kevin Youkilis (left hip) will be out until at least Tuesday. … Rays SS Sean Rodriguez set a club record when he was hit by a pitch for the 15th time this season in the sixth by Aceves. … Boston RHP Josh Beckett (sprained right ankle) threw long toss and at 60 feet on level ground, and could soon be ready to throw off a bullpen mound. … The Rays plan to purchase the contract of UTL Russ Canzler and recall RHP Dane De La Rosa from Triple-A Durham on Sunday.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)