ST. PETERSBURG -- The odds didn't favor the hometown team. Alas, the Rays turned to a hometown player to be the difference in a 6-4, come-from-behind win over the Red Sox at sold-out Tropicana Field on Thursday.Denard Span belted a bases-loaded triple to lift the Rays ahead in a six-run
ST. PETERSBURG -- The odds didn't favor the hometown team. Alas, the Rays turned to a hometown player to be the difference in a 6-4, come-from-behind win over the Red Sox at sold-out Tropicana Field on Thursday.
Denard Span belted a bases-loaded triple to lift the Rays ahead in a six-run eighth inning that put the finishing touches on the most unlikely of outcomes.
For starters, Chris Sale started for the Red Sox, and the southpaw did what he does, holding the Rays scoreless on one hit while striking out nine in six innings.
"It's easy to get discouraged -- down 4-0 and Chris Sale just kind of carved us up there for a couple of innings -- and the guys did not," Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
As the eighth inning unfolded, the Rays cut the lead to 4-2 until Span, who hails from Tampa, stepped to the plate to face tough right-hander Carson Smith with two outs and the bases loaded.
"That guy is filthy," said Carlos Gomez, who was one of the four Rays to draw a walk in the eighth.
Smith got ahead in the count against Span, 1-2.
"First time facing him, he's very deceptive," Span said. "First two pitches of the at-bat, I don't think I even saw the ball because of the way he throws the ball."
But after six pitches, the count stood at 3-2.
"[Span] laid off some really tough pitches," said Brad Miller, who drew a pinch-hit walk in the eighth. "Battled to get it to 3-2 so the runners could get started."
Smith had already walked in one run in the inning, which told Span that Smith had to throw something in the strike zone.
"Bases were loaded," Span said. "The last thing he wanted to do was walk in another run. And I was ready for that pitch. And I was able to stay inside of it and keep it fair."
Red Sox right-fielder Mookie Betts was shifted toward the gap in right-center field, so when the ball landed, it appeared Span could run all day.
"I heard the fans screaming, but I could not tell where it was," Span said. "I was looking for where Mookie was, because he can cover a lot of ground. Once I saw that he was playing me more to the gap, my heart just started racing. I could hear the roar of the crowd. If I could have cried, I would have cried, but I was running so I couldn't do that."
By the time the ball returned to the infield, Span stood on third base, a smile in place amid the gray whiskers on his 34-year-old face, a feel-good moment if there ever was one.
"I wasn't 100 percent sure I'd get the opportunity to start here with this team," said Span, who came to the Rays from the Giants in the Evan Longoria trade, then spent the winter wondering if the Rays were going to trade him. "Just a true blessing to be able to play in front of my family and friends and just help this ballclub win."
Smith allowed that what happened in the eighth was "tough."
"I had him down 1-2, had two opportunities to put him away and I didn't," Smith said.
Gomez allowed himself a chuckle when asked about the hometown hero with the gray beard.
"The old guy did it," Gomez said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Nunez gives Red Sox a thrill: When the ball left Nunez's bat in the second inning, it looked like a flyout to left-center. But everything got chaotic when left fielder Span and Kevin Kiermaier converged and didn't communicate properly. Span went to the ground first, and Kiermaier then tripped over him and fell. The ball kept rolling, and Nunez roared all the way around the bases in 15.87 seconds, per Statcast™. He dived headfirst into home and gave himself the safe sign upon landing. The Boston bench erupted, as the two-run homer made it a 3-0 game.
Rays double off Bogaerts: The Red Sox hoped to extend their lead in the third when Xander Bogaerts had the second of his three hits on the day, a single to left-center. But when Rafael Devers hit a liner to right, Bogaerts was doubled off first on a nice throw by Gomez.
"That's a tough one," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "I talked with [bench coach] Ron Roenicke about it. ... It's a tough read because, if the ball falls, and he short-hopped it, he's probably out at second."
Kiermaier thrills: When Rays starter Chris Archer delivered a 93.1 mph four-seamer on the first pitch of the season to Betts, the Red Sox leadoff hitter connected, sending a drive to deep center field. Kiermaier got a good jump and finished with a leaping grab at the wall, turning what surely would have been extra bases into the first out of the season.
"I mean, I was like, 'What's new?'" Betts said. "I think I've hit three or four balls out in that area, and I think it's gotten caught every time. Maybe I should try hitting it somewhere else."
"Everybody greeted me with a bunch of energy, a bunch of love. That was probably in all of my 9 1/2 or 10 years, that was probably the best postgame celebration by any team I've been on. A fun time." -- Span, on how he was greeted in the clubhouse after the win
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Rays scored six runs in the eighth inning. Last season, they scored at least six runs in an inning only three times.
Rob Refsnyder became the sixth player in baseball history to start at DH and hit out of the No. 9 spot in the lineup. The last player to do so was Kelly Johnson, also for the Rays, in 2013.
Red Sox: Friday will almost feel like a second Opening Day for the Red Sox, as left-hander David Price makes his anticipated debut after being limited to 11 starts last season due to elbow woes. Price felt great during Spring Training and is optimistic that he can regain his status as one of the best starting pitchers in the game.
Rays: The new and improved Blake Snell will make his first start of the season after dominating during the spring. The talented left-hander ended 2017 on a high note, going 5-1 with a 2.84 ERA in his final 10 starts. He is 1-3 with a 5.95 ERA in four career starts against the Red Sox and has lost three straight starts against them. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET.
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Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.