BOSTON (AP) — Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon is looking ahead to the last week of the season and thinking about the way 2011 ended, with baseball’s pennant races coming down to the final games — and the Rays coming out of it with a spot in the playoffs.
“I want it to be exactly like last year,” Maddon said on Wednesday night after the Rays beat Boston 4-2 for their seventh consecutive victory. “It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas.”
Carlos Pena and Ben Francisco hit back-to-back, tape-measure homers in the fifth inning to help Tampa Bay remain 3 1-2 games behind Baltimore for second place in the AL East. The Rays also kept pace with Oakland, which beat Texas 9-3 and remains three games in front for the second wild-card spot.
“We’ll count ’em later,” Pena said. “Right now we’re going to enjoy tonight and come back tomorrow.”
They haven’t lost since manager Maddon challenged them to run the table like Minnesota Fats. Now he’s thinking of another pool-themed bonding experience: “The Hustler,” a 1961 movie starring Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman as pool players.
“That might be a good thing to put in the locker room,” he said.
The Rays blasted music in the visitors’ clubhouse, while players jokingly flashed lights in teammates’ eyes and the rookies donned pantyhose and women’s swimsuits before heading back onto the field for a well-choreographed dance routine in front of the Green Monster.
Across the diamond, several Red Sox players had already emptied their lockers after the final home game of the season for the Red Sox, and perhaps the last at Fenway Park for Boston manager Bobby Valentine. Hired to inspire a fractious clubhouse after the team went 7-20 last September under Terry Francona, Valentine instead presided over what could be the worst Red Sox team since 1965.
“(It’s) disappointing,” he said. “We didn’t walk off many and didn’t score enough runs. We’ve got a lot saved up for next year.”
Alex Cobb (10-9) allowed one run on three hits and a walk, striking out five in five innings as the Rays matched their longest winning streak of the season. Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth for his 45th save in 47 chances.
Jon Lester (9-14) gave up three runs on four hits and a walk, striking out five in six innings. He didn’t allow a hit until Jeff Keppinger singled to left with one out in the fifth, then he gave up back-to-back home runs.
Pena hit his 19th homer, nearly hitting the back wall behind the seats in straightaway center field. Francisco hit another long homer, this one off a billboard above the Green Monster seats, to make it 3-1.
The Red Sox cut the deficit to one run in the sixth when Dustin Pedroia walked, stole second, went to third on Cody Ross’ single and scored on James Loney’s medium fly ball to right field. The stolen base was Pedroia’s second of the game and the 100th of his career.
The Red Sox had some of their all-time greats on the field before the game to help close Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary season, with former captain Carl Yastrzemski pronouncing, “The Red Sox will be back.”
Although the game was Boston’s 793rd consecutive announced sellout — its fifth straight year over 3 million for the season — the ballpark was mostly empty when Rodney struck out Daniel Nava to end the game. Afterward, fans were given the chance to run the bases, and many migrated out to left field to watch the Rays rookies dance.
The Red Sox, who went 34-47 at Fenway, matched their worst home record since 1965 and still have a chance for their worst overall mark since they lost 100 games that season.
They will close the season with three games in Baltimore and three at Yankee Stadium.
And that might be it for Valentine.
“When you don’t accomplish what you set out to do, you don’t feel like you’ve done a good job. Simple,” he said before the game. “When I come back next year, I’ll think I’m prepared to handle it. Hopefully, we’ll have better results.”
“Not much I would have done differently, I don’t think, other than I think would have kept the beer in the clubhouse. I think I could have used one after a few of those games,” he said.
NOTES: It was the fifth time the Rays had hit back-to-back homers this season. … Before the game the Red Sox honored their All Fenway Park Team, with two dozen former players on the field for the ceremony. David Ortiz and Pedroia were the only current players on the 40-man All-Fenway roster. The ceremony capped a yearlong celebration of Fenway’s 100th anniversary. … The final season attendance of 3,043,003 was the smallest since 2007, though just by about 3,400. … Cobb, who was pitching on eight days’ of rest, has allowed three earned runs or fewer in six straight starts. … The teams split the season series 9-9. … The Rays made it 4-2 in the seventh on an RBI double by Jose Lobaton.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.