Rays power past Sox for seventh straight win

Rays power past Sox for seventh straight win

Rays power past Sox for seventh straight win
BOSTON -- Say the Rays don't make the playoffs. Say that this seven-game winning streak they've put together in the toughest part of the season doesn't quite get them the same result as 2011.

They won't look back and say they didn't have an absolute blast.

Tampa Bay shattered a no-hit bid from Red Sox starter Jon Lester in a sequence capped by consecutive home runs, and the bullpen excelled for the umpteenth time on Wednesday night in a 4-2 win at Fenway Park. The Rays own the Majors' longest active win streak, and they're headed to Chicago with seven games left and an American League Wild Card spot dangling three games away.

Before boarding the plane, the Rays literally danced in the Fenway outfield. Ten of the team's junior players, dressed in one-piece bathing suits that were either red, blue, teal or purple, did some apparently choreographed routines as the rest of the club looked on in front of the Green Monster. Rays starter Alex Cobb, who gave up one run in five innings, was among them.

Manager Joe Maddon said it's starting to look a lot like Christmas, and then he got a Rockettes show.

"I want it to be exactly like last year," Maddon said. "It's starting to look a lot like Christmas. We've just been playing so well. The mantra is one game at a time. ... What I like is there's a real looseness about us. But I'll tell you, when the game begins, our focus is really good. They draw it in really nicely and I like that. I'm really eager to get to Chicago."

When the game began, it was all Lester. He had a no-hit bid until one out in the fifth, when Jeff Keppinger, a hero on Tuesday, singled to left. The Rays almost had it broken up a batter before, when Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias made a fantastic play in the hole at short to rob Evan Longoria.

The Rays trailed, 1-0, at the time Keppinger, who's still getting over an illness, got the first hit. Keppinger's quietly had one of the best second halves in the Majors with a .345 average.

Two batters later, the Rays led, 3-1.

Carlos Pena hit his seventh career home run off Lester into what Maddon called "Bernie Carbo" land in center field, perfectly going with a fastball and bombing it to the right of the Green Monster.

"I really got that one. I don't know how far it went, I knew I had connected with it pretty well," said Pena, who has more home runs against Lester than any other active player. "I was surprised to see how far it went. When I saw [center fielder Scott] Podsednik turn around, I'm like 'Great, he can't get it, can't catch it.'"

Lester, like Keppinger, was dealing with a sickness.

"My stuff didn't change," he said after his six innings. "Two pitches. A good pitch to Keppinger. He did a good job of keeping his hands inside the ball. I felt like I threw a pretty good fastball down and away to Pena. The ball kind of backed up on me on the second homer. But, yeah, two pitches."

Pena's season has been a disappointing one on a whole. His average hadn't been at .200 or higher since early July before Tuesday. But in his last seven games, he's hitting .363.

"He's been there before, he understands that to a certain extent he's underachieved this year offensively," Maddon said of Pena's importance down the stretch. "He knows that. We've talked about it, all he wants to do is help us win, that's what he's told me. He doesn't care what it is."

The next batter, Ben Francisco, turned an eight-pitch at-bat into his second homer with the Rays. His rope went down the left-field line and hit off an auto insurance sign extending from the Monster.

Cobb was effective but inefficient, needing 91 pitches to get through five. He allowed just three hits and three walks in front of his family from Boston. Some of the folks he knew surprised him by making it down to seats right behind home plate.

In the lone inning Cobb did allow a run, in the second, he got a great play from second baseman Ryan Roberts. Roberts was breaking to cover for a steal, and had to stop his momentum and dive the opposite way to cleanly grab the ball and flip to shortstop Ben Zobrist, who got the out at first.

"Smart move by Joe [going to the bullpen] early on in the game," Cobb said. "When you have a lights out bullpen like that, it's a no-brainer to go to."

With Cobb done, the relief effort started out troublesome. Kyle Farnsworth let both batters he faced reach. Jake McGee came on, got an out on a sac fly, then struck out the next two.

"Kyle just a little bit of a hiccup there, but how about Jake McGee once again," Maddon said. "Jake McGee's been phenomenal."

Then it was on down the line. Wade Davis, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney each threw hitless innings after McGee, and Rodney matched a club record with his 45th save.

"It's just spectacular," Pena said of the bullpen. "It's stunning to see how these guys go out there day after day ... I've been in the league for a while, and I haven't seen anything like it. Hats off to them, they've done their job."

Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.