For most of the season Carlos Peña has been a big out in the Tampa Bay Rays lineup. On Wednesday, he was the big bat, hitting one of the longer home runs at Fenway Park this season.
It came at a good time, too. A two-run blast in the middle of the game that put the Rays in front of the Boston Red Sox and sent them on their way a 4-2 victory. It was their seventh win in a row, matching their season-high.
"Mentally it’s hard on us when we don’t live up to our own expectations, which I haven’t. But it’s time I have to let it go and really show up for my teammates and do the best I can to bring the best of me today," Peña said. "That’s all the matters."
All that matters right now for the Rays is a daily win.
Even with Wednesday’s victory, the Rays failed to pick up ground on the teams they are chasing.
So with seven games left in the season they remain 3 ½ games behind the AL wild card-leading Baltimore Orioles and three behind the Oakland A’s, who are clinging to the second wild card spot.
"We’re trying to stay focused and win every single ballgame we have in front of us," Peña said, "and we’ll count them later."
In front of the Rays is a four-game series that begins tonight in Chicago against White Sox, who are battling Detroit for the American League Central title. The loser of that race is likely going home for the winter since both are behind the Rays in the Wild Card standings.
"I’m eager to get to Chicago," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
The Rays, though, have rejoined the playoff chase by living in the moment. So far it has worked.
It certainly hasn’t hurt that Peña has resurrected his swing, as well.
Peña, who was hitting below .200 every day from July 8 until Tuesday’s game, is batting .421 during the winning streak.
If he’s remembered for anything during the latter part of this season it might be the fifth-inning home run that traveled 438 feet and nearly struck the wall behind the center field bleachers just to the right of the Green Monster. It was his 19th home run of the season and the seventh in his career of Boston lefty Jon Lester, who had taken a no-hitter and a 1-0 lead into the inning.
Peña’s homer followed a singled by Jeff Keppinger and turned the game in the Rays’ favor.
"He hit it up there in Bernie Carbo land," Maddon said. "That ball was properly struck. That turned (the game) around for us."
Maddon has said for the Rays to have any chance at all, they will need production from the lefties in the lineup – Matt Joyce, Luke Scott and Peña.
Scott, who did not play Wednesday since the Red Sox were throwing a lefty, is hitting .350 with five RBI in his last eight games. Joyce, who entered as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning, had five hits in his last six games prior to Wednesday, a stretch of production that followed a 5-for-34 slump.
"The lefties are going to play a big role in getting to the promise land this year," Maddon said. "It was great to see (Peña) do that against a very tough lefty."
So far, none of the three has had a bigger impact than Peña.
"He’s very important," Maddon said. "He’s been there before. He knows what it feels like. He’s understands that to a certain extent he’s underachieved offensively, he knows that. All he wants to do is help us win. That’s what he told me, whether it’s coming off the bench, whether it’s starting, pinch-hitting, whatever. So he’s definitely got a clear mind now regarding what he needs to do to help us, and he’s doing that."
Ben Francisco followed Peña’s shot with a home run over the Green Monster to give the Rays back-to-back home runs for the fifth time this season and, more importantly, a 3-1 lead.
Alex Cobb went five innings for his 10th win of the season, and the bullpen brigade of Kyle Farnsworth, Jake McGee, Wade Davis, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney made it stand up.
Rodney worked the ninth for his 45th save of the season, tying Rafael Soriano’s single season record set in 2010.
Now it’s on Chicago, where the Rays begin a stretch of seven games against teams battling for playoff spots. The Rays end the season with three games against the Orioles at Tropicana Field.
The goal is to cut Baltimore’s lead to less than three. A good weekend in Chicago and some help from the Red Sox, who play in Baltimore, might make that happen.
"We’re hanging in there," Peña said. "We’re playing good baseball. We’re literally just playing the ball game at hand. That’s all that matters to us. Regardless of how many we have won or how many we have to win or how many games we have left, we just want to take care of business tonight."
The Rays gathered in front of the Green Monster before leaving Fenway Park late Wednesday night. The rookies, dressed in pantyhose and one-piece Jazzercize outfits, danced to "Call me Maybe," while Red Sox fans ran the bases as the curtain came down on Fenway Park on the 100th anniversary season of Fenway Park.
James Shields was the mastermind of the annul rookie hazing.
Shields starts tonight against the White Sox, beginning a series that could make or break the Rays run.
Despite the loose feeling in the clubhouse and the howling from left field as Matt Moore, Chris Archer and company danced, Shields knows what the Rays have to do this weekend.
"We got to win games," Shields said. "That’s what we got to do."