- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- For all of you who decided that these Boston Red Sox are boring -- and evidently, there are a lot of you, considering that "Red Sox boring" produced 350,000 hits on Google -- you can leave now. Turn off the lights. And close the door behind you.
Mr. Simmons, you're excused, saved in part by this tweet moments after these supposed yawn producers from Boston came into Tropicana Field on Friday night and whacked the Tampa Bay Rays, 3-1, closing to within 4½ games of both the Tampa Rays and New York Yankees in what has a living, beating-heart chance of becoming the most remarkable playoff push in years.
@sportsguy33 Great Red Sox win. Can't ask for much more as a fan than what they've given these past few weeks. Every reason to fold shop and they didn't.
On a day when Mike Cameron had season-ending surgery, Dustin Pedroia openly contemplated season-ending surgery and Kevin Youkilis was watching his first road game since having season-ending surgery, these Red Sox keep coming in waves, like the zombies in "Night of the Living Dead."
And if you can't kill 'em, maybe it's time to start fearing them.
Put it this way: No one in these parts would be surprised to see Rays manager Joe Maddon pulling an all-nighter riding his bike on Bayshore Boulevard. Sleep may not be an option for Pedalin' Joe. Not after Boston's ace lefty, Jon Lester, outdueled Maddon's ace lefty, David Price. And his club -- which managed all of three singles off Lester and relievers Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon -- must reassemble Saturday night just in time to face Clay Buchholz, who has a 1.93 career ERA in six starts against the Rays.
The Rays had lost just five of their past 25 games in the Trop and had plenty of chances to make it a long night for Lester, who spent most of his evening pitching from the stretch because of five walks, a hit batsman and three wild pitches.
But Lester, who had been torched for nine runs in two innings in his most recent start, morphed back into the man who competes with Price for the title of best young left-hander in the league.
Ask Evan Longoria, who last season drove in 27 runs against the Red Sox, the most by any opposing player in a half-century. That's the kind of performance that might make an ad agency decide Longoria would be perfect to cast in an action role, someone who thinks nothing of jumping out of helicopters.
Three times Friday night, Longoria came up to the plate with two men on base. Three times, he came up empty, grounding into a double play in the first, flailing at a third-strike curveball in the fourth and gazing at a belt-high third-strike fastball in the sixth. Longoria's RBI total against the Sox in 2010: six.
"Just trying to change speeds and keep him from sitting in one location on one pitch," Lester said of excising Longoria's bat from his hands. "Obviously, we've seen him do some damage when he's able to do that. We were able to kind of dictate the speed and location and not let him get too comfortable.''
Call Don Draper. On this night, anyway, the most qualified candidate to reshoot that ad was Sox catcher Victor Martinez, who hit a solo home run off Price in the first inning and another in the seventh, sandwiched around Jed Lowrie's bloop RBI single in the fourth.
The Sox had 10 hits off the estimable Price, tying the most he has allowed in his career. But like Lester, Price, who did not walk a batter, did some of his best work with men on base.
Still, he may have some recalibrating to do against Martinez, who now has three career home runs in just a dozen at-bats against Price. The catcher is a Rays-killer, batting a league-best .371 against Tampa Bay, and is wearing out lefties of any stripe, batting .415 against them with eight of his dozen home runs this season.
By manager Terry Francona's reckoning, the long balls may have been the highlight-reel material, but did not represent Martinez's best work this night.
"I thought Victor caught the game of his life,'' Francona said. "He was all over the place tonight.''
Including the perfect spot to apply the tag to B.J. Upton, when Upton belatedly responded to a tardy wave home by third-base coach Tom Foley and was cut down at the plate by center fielder Darnell McDonald. There were no outs at the time and Upton would have been the tying run, but he was in second gear coming into third base and didn't have enough acceleration to beat McDonald's throw.
You know: Darnell McDonald -- the type of journeyman who evidently inspires ennui in some but keeps living up to his billing by Cameron as the team's "Cinderella Man." This wasn't Jose Tartabull, 43 years to the day later, but it was the kind of play that makes the believers feel a familiar feeling coming on.
The same feeling they got when closer Jonathan Papelbon walked two in the ninth but struck out John Jaso for his 33rd save.
On Aug. 27, the excitement is just beginning.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.