ST. PETERSBURG -- Red Sox right-hander Nick Pivetta and Boston’s bullpen flirted with history on Thursday night at Tropicana Field. But at the end of a battle for first place in the American League East, the Rays were the ones rushing out of the dugout and dumping coolers on each other in celebration.
Pivetta carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, and Boston’s bullpen extended it into the eighth. Manuel Margot scored from third base on a wild pitch by Red Sox closer Matt Barnes with two outs in the ninth to give the Rays a walk-off 1-0 win that vaulted Tampa Bay (45-31) back into the division’s top spot by a half-game over Boston (44-31).
“Odd way to win a ballgame, but we’ll take it,” manager Kevin Cash said. “When you're being pitched tough ... it's tough to piece together a bunch of hits off of them. Tonight, we didn't have to. You don't see it very often.”
In fact, it was only the fourth time in franchise history that the Rays won on a walk-off wild pitch -- and the first time they did so for the only run of the game. Nobody in the Majors had won in that fashion since the Marlins beat the Tigers that way to secure a no-hitter for Henderson Alvarez on the final day of the 2013 regular season.
After Barnes retired the first two batters in the ninth, Margot smacked a single to left -- just the Rays’ second hit of the night. The speedy Margot had the green light and took his shot, stealing second then hustling to third after an errant throw by catcher Christian Vázquez bounced into center field.
“We didn't really have an offensive [attack] going,” Margot said through interpreter Manny Navarro, “so just trying to be aggressive.”
Boston intentionally walked Joey Wendle, bringing up Francisco Mejía. Margot knew Barnes is a two-pitch pitcher and figured he didn’t want to throw Mejía a fastball, giving him a chance to put the ball in play, so he was on alert as he took his lead off third base.
Sure enough, Barnes’ first two pitches were curveballs. Mejía took the first one for a strike then swung and missed on the second one, which skipped away from Vázquez. Margot took off and slid home to score the winning run.
“Just tremendous on the bases, like always,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “He's the best baserunner in the big leagues. I've said that for a while now.”
Pivetta’s shot at individual history ended with two outs in the seventh inning, when Red Sox manager Alex Cora took the ball from the right-hander after his 100th pitch of the game. Kiermaier broke up Boston’s no-hit bid in the eighth, knocking a double to left field off lefty Darwinzon Hernandez. That ensured that the Rays wouldn’t be no-hit for the first time since Félix Hernández pitched a perfect game against them in Seattle on Aug. 15, 2012, but Kiermaier said Tampa Bay wasn't exactly counting outs at that point.
“It was a tie ballgame. We were just trying to stay the course and try to get something going,” Kiermaier said, then he grinned and added: “Of all people, probably didn't think it was gonna be me to bust it up.”
But it was hardly a surprise to see Kiermaier involved in the defensive play of the game, a perfect throw from center field that kept the game scoreless. Because even as Pivetta and Boston’s bullpen flummoxed their lineup most of the night, the Rays’ pitching and defense matched them zero for zero. Their finest work came in the seventh inning.
Former Rays outfielder Hunter Renfroe doubled to left-center against Ryan Thompson to lead off the seventh. Wendle then drilled a line drive at third base for the first out, and Vázquez smacked a single to center that sent Renfroe rounding third and heading for home.
Kiermaier got to the ball in a hurry, registering a sprint speed of 29.8 feet per second, then fired a 94.7 mph missile to Mejía, who tagged out Renfroe. The Red Sox challenged the call, but it was upheld after a replay review.
“I love going out there making plays and trying to make a difference, especially on that side of the ball,” Kiermaier said. “That's been my M.O. my whole career, and I'm glad I took advantage of an opportunity right there.”
“You've got to be perfect on that play,” Cash added. “And fortunately for us, we were.”
It was the gem of the Rays’ sixth shutout of the season, but not the only run-prevention highlight.
Making his second start since taking the injured Tyler Glasnow’s spot in the rotation, right-hander Michael Wacha delivered everything the Rays could have asked for as he struck out seven and surrendered only one hit and two walks over five scoreless innings.
Wacha struck out Bobby Dalbec with a runner on third to escape a jam in the fifth, and Drew Rasmussen worked out of a two-on, two-out jam by retiring Rafael Devers in the sixth. Mejía picked off Vázquez at second base to end the seventh, then reliever Matt Wisler worked a scoreless eighth and J.P. Feyereisen pitched the ninth to set up Margot’s winning rally.
After suffering four walk-off losses on their recent road trip to Chicago and Seattle, the Rays were finally back on the winning side Thursday night. And back in first place.
“It's going to be a fun summer. There's very competitive teams in this division. We know that,” Cash said. “We'll certainly take two out of three against Boston, but to win a close ballgame does feel good. We've lost our share here lately of close ones, and it's nice for the guys to feel a win afterward.”