ST. PETERSBURG -- There they were, mobbing Matt Joyce on the infield dirt in a ritual nearly perfected by the Tampa Bay Rays over the years though not practiced often this season.
Joyce was the center of attention late Monday afternoon when his 10th inning opposite field single to left field with the bases-loaded scored Sean Rodriguez with the winning run in the Rays 4-3 win against the Boston Red Sox.
It was only the Rays fourth walk-off win of the season, the first since May 24 when they beat the Red Sox on a throwing error in the 15th inning.
“That's been quite a while for us,” Joyce said. “It's nice to know we can do it again and have those kinds of feeling, because it's fun.”
Joyce's hit off former Ray and noted sinkerballer Burke Badenhop ended a chess match between Rays manager Joe Maddon and his Red Sox counterpart John Farrell.
Ryan Hanigan began the inning with a double to the left field corner that required the catcher to test and beat the arm of Yoenis Cespedes.
“When I came around first I was already committed and I kind of realized it was going to be real close, because he was about to turn and throw,” Hanigan said. “It was obviously as close as it gets, really, but hey, we got a call. Looked like I got in there, at least a tie, so I thought it was the right move. Set us up to get a guy in scoring position for the W, so that was huge.”
Farrell asked the umpires to review the call, which they did. It was confirmed.
Rodriguez pinch-ran for Hanigan, and Farrell had Badenhop walked Kevin Kiermaier to set up the force on the bases.
Ben Zobrist stepped to the plate, and Maddon called for the sacrifice bunt knowing if Zobrist moved the runners, Farrell would walk Wil Myers to load the bases. Maddon said he knew Joyce had a batter chance than Zobrist to put the ball in the air against Badenhop.
Zobrist bunted the runners over, and Farrell had Badenhop walk Myers, who had already had three hits in the game.
“(Badenhop) still could have put (Joyce) on the ground,” Maddon said, “so I understand what they did and why they were doing it.”
Said Farrell: “We had handled Joyce well to that point and really, in the series against right-handers, and (we were) looking for him to put the ball on the ground.”
Joyce was 1-for-14 in the series, including 0-for-4 with two strikeouts Monday prior to that at-bat. He drove the first pitch from Badenhop over the head of Cespedes to touch of the celebration.
“For me, I was just trying to see the ball. That was the biggest thing,” Joyce said. “Hit the ball in the air to left field, preferably to where Cespedes couldn't throw the guy out, but he's got such a good arm you never know with that guy. It worked out.”
Badenhop leads all major league relievers by inducing 14 ground ball double plays this season. He threw a sinker that didn't sink all the way, Joyce said.
“It was a little up. It wasn't up-up. It wasn't a horrible pitch,” Joyce said. “I felt like I did a good job staying on it.”
The Rays scored three times in the third inning on an RBI double to right by Myers and a two-run single by Evan Longoria to take a 3-1 lead.
Mike Napoli homered off Drew Smyly in the fourth inning to make it a one-run game.
The Red Sox tied it in the eighth inning when Cespedes hit an RBI single to left with two outs against Steve Geltz, a September call-up making his Rays debut.
But Jake McGee and Grant Balfour kept the Red Sox in check until Joyce came through with the second walk-off hit of his career.
The Rays tied the club record last season with 13 walk-off wins. The first three walk-off wins this year came on consecutive nights in late May with the second and third against the Red Sox.
“It's good to get that lovin' feeling back,” Maddon said. “Tough game. Who knows? Who knows what can happen.”