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Fennelly: Spirited Joyce again leads way for Rays

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Published:   |   Updated: June 12, 2013 at 06:33 AM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Jonny Gomes, a New England newbie but a Rays wild man from way back, found himself in a startling position Monday night, you know, before it turned Tuesday morning and the Red Sox handed the Rays a seemingly crushing loss. Gomes dashed onto the rug at Tropicana Field to protect: the Red Sox.

It was all part of the on-field theatrics that flowed from Boston pitcher John Lackey's stupid Me Moment, when he drilled Rays outfielder Matt Joyce after Joyce had homered once, then tossed his bat in anger after smacking a ball that went just foul. Benches cleared.

And there, in the middle of the scrum, was Gomes, who more than once in his time here ran, fists at the ready, to defend Rays honor against Boston.

“I'd kind of forgotten how many times we've gotten into it,” Gomes said before Tuesday's Rays-Sox game. “But I was watching ESPN and they were showing all the fights and I thought, 'Oh, yeah,' and 'Oh, yeah' and Oh, yeah.'”

The Rays fought back Tuesday — they won, 8-3.

They fought back, and nothing personified it more than Gomes' former teammate Joyce, who hit a long two-run home that did not curve foul, that said Stand Your Ground as much as he had a night earlier, when he wouldn't back down, either, not with Lackey barking at him, not with Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia in front of him, push come to shove. Local guy Matty Joyce shoved back Monday, and he shoved back Tuesday, too.

“I made sure I held onto the bat a second more,” Joyce said.

You know Joyce didn't like being the center of attention on Monday, after the Rays lost, or even before the game Tuesday. You know that he didn't like being called out by Boston, his integrity questioned, the way he plays the game questioned. He didn't think he did anything wrong by throwing that bat Monday, he was just frustrated, he said, but, even so, most of all, you know he didn't like that spotlight.

That's not Joyce's style. Pushed along by his loving but hard-charging dad, you always wondered if Joyce was looking over his shoulder a bit even after he made the major leagues.

Look at him the past two days.

“I don't think we're a team that's going to back down from anybody. I don't think we're scared of anybody,” Joyce said.

His 12th homer of this season, 422 feet long, deep into the right-field stands, said as much. Joyce did not lie: He said it felt good.

“That's a great feeling. I've never really been a person to talk a lot of trash. I wanted, of course, to come out and play a good game, play the game the right way and win the ballgame.”

This was an important win for the Rays and an important moment for Joyce, when coupled with the confrontation Monday.

“I think you're right,” he said. “There comes a point in everybody's life or career when you have to say you belong here, I'm going to stand up for what I think is right because I feel like I play the game the right way, I feel like I play hard and do my best not to show up other players. I have a lot of respect for the game and appreciate what an amazing game it is to play it the right way …”

“I know he knows he belongs here, but he's getting to the point where he's really becoming a winning baseball player,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

Everything matters as the Rays chase the surprisingly good Red Sox, among others, in the AL East. They'd lost six of seven games against first-place Boston before Tuesday, no matter how hard they tried, with Monday night, Tuesday morning an amazing case in point.

For 14 innings, the home team fought, but lost. The Rays were down 6-0 before Boston had made an out in the first inning. They clawed back, tied it at 6 in the eighth, then had bases loaded, no one out and Evan Longoria at the plate in the 10th — and didn't score.

In short, they nearly won a game they shouldn't have won, but ended up losing a game they shouldn't have lost — all in one night's work.

And then there was Joyce at the center of the storm, where he hated to be.

All of that was forgotten by late Tuesday night.

The Rays bounced back. Matt Joyce bounced back.

Did his bat do his talking?

Oh, yeah.

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