ST. PETERSBURG -- The darnedest thing happened Wednesday night, the Rays started hitting -- and they never stopped.
Powered by a 15-hit attack, the Rays snapped their four-game losing streak as they cruised to a 13-3 win over the Red Sox before 12,708 at Tropicana Field.
So profound was the Rays' offense that before the Red Sox could record the second out in the sixth inning, Tampa Bay had already scored more runs than it had in its three previous games.
The win couldn't have come at a better time, as the Rays are eight games away from being mathematically eliminated from the American League East race after the Yankees swept the Blue Jays in a Wednesday doubleheader. Tampa Bay managed to pull within 5 1/2 games of Oakland for the AL's second Wild Card spot, as the Orioles took the AL Wild Card lead with another extra-inning win vs. the Mariners.
If the Rays (79-70) indeed are going to make a last-minute miracle run, they will need to continue to pile up the runs like the beer-league slow-pitch team they resembled Wednesday night. While such a prospect might seem far-fetched for a team that has struggled offensively all season, the way they have hit for the last week makes one believe that the offense is way overdue.
"I really would like to see a carry-over effect tomorrow," manager Joe Maddon said. "I'm not talking that many runs. I'm just talking about good at-bats, hitting the ball hard, flying around the field, believing that we can do something positive and good.
"You've got to believe it. If we didn't learn anything from last year you have to keep playing until you're mathematically eliminated. In the meantime, believe that you can -- and I do."
Maddon said he knows that the odds are stacked against his team, so he would like his players to put on the blinders and not pay attention to the standings while trying to pile up the wins and hope for the best.
"We want to do a little bit of Minnesota Fats," Maddon said. "We have to involve Minnesota Fats, we've got to run the table, man."
Jacoby Ellsbury singled home Boston's first two runs with RBI singles off Chris Archer in the first and third innings as the Red Sox built a 3-1 lead.
Typical of the Rays' offense of late, they loaded the bases with no outs and managed to score just one run in the second. Evan Longoria, Luke Scott and Jeff Keppinger opened the inning with singles before Matt Joyce walked to drive home Longoria. Carlos Pena struck out and then Jose Molina grounded into a double play to end the threat.
"We had chances early, too, only came up with one run, I was a little bit concerned," Maddon said. "But the next time that group came through they did really well and made up for the previous inning, so it was good."
Ben Zobrist singled home a run off Daisuke Matsuzaka in the third, then Keppinger led off the fourth with a home run and Pena added a two-run homer to give the Rays a 5-3 lead.
"I was struggling with my command from the first inning and I kept on throwing it where they wanted the ball, and they never missed those pitches and it really hurt me today," said Matsuzaka, who allowed five earned runs in three-plus innings to take his sixth loss of the season.
Maddon noted that Pena's homer put the Rays over the top emotionally and mentally.
"That ball was crushed," Maddon said. "That was close to going in the [Rays] tank, and not many balls go in that tank. ... So that was good for him and us."
Tampa Bay put the game away with a seven spot in the sixth to take a 12-3 lead. Kick-starting the fertile sixth was a leadoff walk by Pena, a bunt single by Molina followed by a triple by Desmond Jennings that saw the Alabama speedster go the distance when third baseman Pedro Ciriaco missed the throw from the outfield.
Before the sixth concluded, Red Sox pitchers had walked six and surrendered four hits in the inning.
Archer allowed three runs in five innings while striking out six and walking four en route to his first Major League win.
"It feels pretty good," Archer said. "This is a classic example of if you keep the team in the game for as long as you can, they'll put it out for you. I think it was big all around tonight. It's hard not to be selfish, but as a team, it's awesome that we got the win, and for it to be my first one, that's pretty amazing, too."
While it's way too early to think "162 miracle" again this season, Maddon isn't ready to sack the bats just yet.
"The standings are very difficult, but we're alive and kicking," Maddon said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.