ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon preaches that no single game or series is any more significant than another, yet there are always exceptions — such as sweeping AL East rival Boston while the Red Sox are weathering a slew of injuries.
“They’re wounded right now and you really do want to be able to take advantage of that moment, obviously. From their perspective, to do that to us at this time would have bolstered them,” Maddon said Wednesday night after the surging Rays beat Tim Wakefield 6-4 for their fifth straight victory.
“Nevertheless, they also are solaced by the fact they aren’t at full strength. … It’s always a rationalization process. From our perspective, they weren’t at full strength, and to be able to win these three games is very important,” he said.
David Price pitched into the eighth inning to become the AL’s first 12-game winner and fellow All-Star Evan Longoria ended the longest homerless drought of his career to help the surging Rays win for the seventh time in eight games.
Price (12-4) allowed two runs, including Mike Cameron’s solo homer, while scattering eight hits, walking one and striking out 10 over 7ª innings. The Rays used three pitchers to get the final four outs, with Matt Garza making his first relief appearance in three years and earning his first save.
“I told them whatever they needed,” said Garza, who started Monday’s series opener but only lasted three innings before Tampa Bay rallied late to win.
“Huge,” Price said. “Obviously a sweep against anybody is big, but when it comes against a rival, it’s even bigger. … We played good baseball for three days and we got rewarded for it.”
Longoria’s 13th homer of the season — a solo shot in the fourth inning off knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (3-7) — was his first since June 15 against Atlanta and ended a stretch of 78 consecutive at bats over 20 games.
The Rays swept a home series of three games or more for the first time this season, improving to 8-4 against Boston. They began the season series with a four-game sweep at Fenway Park, dropped the next four and now have won the last four.
“This was a disappointing three days as far as getting wins. We ask our guys to try their best, do their best and that’s exactly what they’re doing. We’ll keep battling,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “This is actually kind of a fun group right now. It’s a good group to work with. We’ll figure it out.”
Longoria’s homer off one of the catwalks that support the roof at Tropicana Field broke a scoreless tie.
The Rays added a second run in the fourth on a walk, stolen base, wild pitch and B.J. Upton’s infield hit. They scored three more in the fifth, when Wakefield allowed just one hit — Carlos Pena’s RBI single — but walked three and watched one run score on a passed ball and another cross the plate when second baseman Bill Hall dropped the relay throw on a potential inning-ending double play grounder.
David Ortiz cut into Price’s 5-0 lead with a run-scoring double in the sixth for Boston. Cameron went deep against Price in the seventh and finished with three hits off the young, hard-throwing lefty whose next start could come in next week’s All-Star game in Anaheim.
Kevin Youkilis was back in the Red Sox lineup after leaving during the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Rays because of pain in his right ankle. He went 0 for 5 with one strikeout, limping at times but making it through the entire game.
Wakefield allowed six runs and four hits, walked six and struck out three over 5ª innings. Carl Crawford drove in the final run charged to the Boston starter with a sixth-inning single off Dustin Richardson.
“There’s no excuse. I walked too many guys, had too many guys on base,” the knuckleballer said. “I couldn’t throw it for strikes and ended up walking six guys. It’s probably what cost us the game.”
Cameron’s sacrifice fly trimmed Boston’s deficit to 6-3 in the ninth. Rays manager Joe Maddon called on Garza to get the last two outs because closer Rafael Soriano was unavailable after earning saves the previous four nights.
Darnell McDonald’s RBI double off Garza got the Red Sox within two runs. Ortiz walked before Youkilis lined to center field to end the game.
NOTES: Soriano, 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA and 23 saves in 24 opportunities, was added to the AL All-Star team as a replacement for Mariano Rivera. … Red Sox C Jason Varitek, still wearing a protective boot for his broken right foot, took soft throws wearing his gear while sitting in a chair behind a bullpen plate. … The Rays are 24-15 against Boston since June 30, 2008, after going 43-98 in the previous 141 games between them.