'Crazy game' ends with Rays' 'biggest win'

In a contest that had virtually everything, Tampa Bay rallied from 6 down to pad AL East lead

September 7th, 2021

BOSTON -- After two innings of Monday’s Labor Day matinee, the Rays found themselves in a six-run hole, with their starting pitcher knocked out early for the second straight day and a long afternoon ahead of them.

And it was indeed a long afternoon-turned-evening, just not in the way they might have thought an hour after Chris Sale’s first pitch.

By the time their nearly five-hour epic with the Red Sox was over, they’d seen continue his historic on-base streak with his first career four-hit game. They’d seen clutch hit after clutch hit from , from his Little League “grand slam” to a solo blast over the Green Monster to the go-ahead hit in extra innings.

They’d seen make a mad dash to score the tying run in the ninth inning on an inside-the-park homer, quieting Fenway Park but for the raucous reaction in (and spilling out in front of) the visitors’ dugout. They’d seen six Red Sox relievers and sent six of their own to the mound, piecing together eight innings while allowing only three runs.

Finally, after four hours and 54 minutes, the team with the best record in the American League and more come-from-behind wins than any club in the Majors saw its most bizarre, exhilarating and straight-up wild comeback victory of the season: Rays 11, Red Sox 10.

“Crazy, wild game. It wasn't pretty,” Cruz said. “It was beautiful at the end.”

“Biggest win of the year,” Meadows added. “For sure.”

After rallying all the way back from a 7-1 deficit to force extra innings, the Rays won it when Cruz lined an RBI single off first baseman Franchy Cordero’s glove, tacked on an RBI single, and recorded the final out to strand the bases loaded after allowing the Red Sox to pull within a run in the 10th inning.

The Rays (87-51), who have won 16 of their last 20 games and 34 of 48 since the All-Star break, improved their lead over the Yankees (78-59) in the AL East to a season-high 8 1/2 games. Even with their pitching staff fatigued by two days of heavy workloads, they started off a three-city, nine-game road trip on a high note with their 43rd come-from-behind win of the season.

“Like I've said all year, we just find a way,” Meadows said. “Even being down pretty big early, we just continued to grind at-bats and have each other's backs. Obviously it worked out for us … and hopefully we can keep it going.”

This comeback was especially improbable. Entering Monday’s series opener, the Rays were 0-70 all time -- 0-69 in the regular season, 0-1 in the postseason -- when trailing the Red Sox by at least six runs. That’s where they found themselves after left-hander allowed seven runs while recording only six outs.

Relievers and held the line with three scoreless innings, giving the lineup time to pull within two when defensive gaffes by Red Sox center fielder Alex Verdugo and second baseman Taylor Motter turned Cruz’s fly ball to center into four runs in the fourth. All of a sudden, the Rays were back within striking distance.

“We just kind of fed off that momentum, inning to inning, piecing it together,” manager Kevin Cash said.

The Rays kept scratching across runs, scoring in the sixth on Jordan Luplow’s single, in the seventh on a single by Randy Arozarena and in the eighth when Cruz crushed a ball over the Green Monster and took a more traditional trip around the bases to make it a one-run game. This game took everyone -- 20 of their 28 players, actually -- but as Meadows said of Cruz: “It seemed like every big moment, he delivered.”

“Nellie’s doing what we got him here to do,” Cash added. “He's picking up runs. He's having good at-bats. His leadership. … Seems like he really rose to the occasion, big time, multiple times.”

But JT Chargois allowed a run in the sixth, and J.P. Feyereisen served up a homer to Jonathan Araúz in the seventh, so the Red Sox were able to maintain their one-run lead heading into the ninth. Up stepped Meadows, leading off the inning against reliever Garrett Whitlock.

Meadows saw nothing but fastballs from Whitlock during his at-bat, and he slugged the eighth one he saw to center. The ball bounced above Verdugo’s outstretched glove and skipped away, then shortstop José Iglesias -- the closest Red Sox defender -- was slow to get the ball back into the infield. That gave Meadows time to dash around the bases and score the tying run, even as he felt like his legs were about to give out while rounding third.

“That took it out of me, that's for sure,” Meadows said.

But it fired up the rest of his teammates. As Meadows slid home, third-base coach Rodney Linares pumped his fist, Franco jumped in celebration and the rest of the Rays went berserk.

“As soon as he scored that run,” Franco said through interpreter Manny Navarro, “I thought, ‘We have this game.’”

It wouldn’t be so easy, of course. McHugh wriggled out of a two-on, nobody-out jam in the ninth, with catcher Mike Zunino snagging a popped-up bunt before Joey Wendle and Franco turned a double play. With one out in the 10th, Cruz drove in Arozarena to give the Rays their first lead since the first inning, then alertly moved into scoring position on right fielder Hunter Renfroe’s throw.

Lowe, the last position player on the bench, came through with a pinch-hit single to make it a two-run game. Then McHugh immediately allowed a run in his second inning of work, loaded the bases and retired pinch-hitter Kevin Plawecki to end a game the Rays won’t soon forget.

“We find a way to just get it done,” Cruz said. “No matter who's in the lineup, who's starting the game, we all prepare for any situation. Today was a great example.”