ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It might have started out resembling a T-ball game, one of those sunny affairs in which every kid on the team sponsored by the local supermarket reaches on a hit or walk and runs around the bases until the manager/dad announces that, OK, it’s time for the other team to bat.
But by the end of what became the longest night of the season for both the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night in Tropicana Field -- a 10-8 Boston win completed in 14 innings and 5 hours 24 minutes -- there was no doubt they were engaged in playing hardball, with emotions clearly trumping exhaustion in the losers’ clubhouse.
The object of the Rays’ ire was Sox starter John Lackey, who barked and gestured at their dugout in the second, then drilled Matt Joyce in the back with a fastball in the sixth, a “bush league move,” as Joyce described it afterward.
The first eight players to bat for the Red Sox reached safely, seven on hits, one on a walk and six of them scoring against Rays starter Alex Cobb, who had allowed a total of four earned runs in his previous four starts. Boston hadn’t seen a hit parade like this since June 27, 2003, when the first 11 batters reached safely in a 14-run first inning against the Marlins in which Johnny Damon came a home run short of the cycle, with a single, double and triple -- all in the first inning.
But the Sox failed to hold leads of 6-0 in regulation and 8-6 in the 10th before finally vanquishing Tampa Bay on a broken-bat single by Daniel Nava, followed by Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s fourth hit of the night and third in extras, an RBI single that brought home an insurance run against Cesar Ramos, Tampa Bay’s eighth pitcher of the night.
“Six runs, then two hits and eight shutout innings later, we tack a couple more on, then the seesaw battle began," Sox manager John Farrell said. “Thankfully, it ended with a win, but you can’t say enough about the way our guys continued to grind away through a very long night."
Besides the frustration of seeing their comeback efforts amount to naught, the Rays went into the night seething about the behavior of Lackey, who barked at their dugout and gestured with his glove at the end of the second inning, then drilled Joyce between the numbers with a fastball in the sixth.
Lackey issued the pro forma denials of intentionally throwing at Joyce, who had homered in his first at-bat, then dramatically dropped his bat after crushing a 3-and-0 pitch in the second, a ball that would have been a three-run home run had it not hooked foul. The bat struck Saltalamacchia in the foot, which evidently added to Lackey’s annoyance at Joyce's teeing off on him twice.
Lackey admitted to no such irritation afterward, of course, though he had walked just one and retired seven in a row before hitting Joyce in the back with two outs and nobody on in the sixth.
“What do you mean?" he said. “I was just trying to come in there and get him off the plate. They were swinging quite a bit at everything I threw up there. I thought maybe I’d get a little bit of the plate for me."
As for his exchange with the Rays' dugout in the second, all Lackey would say is: “They’ve got a few guys who like to get on you."
After being hit, Joyce barked at Lackey, who said something in return. Saltalamacchia acted as a human shield between them, and while the benches emptied -- Jonny Gomes, a former Ray, and Clay Buchholz leading the charge from the Sox side, David Ortiz and Jon Lester sprinting all the way from the clubhouse as late=but=accounted-for arrivals -- hostilities dissipated as quickly as they began.
But afterward, both Rays manager Joe Maddon and Joyce made it clear they weren’t buying Lackey’s explanation.
“It all started because Matt hit a home run in the first inning and apparently Lackey did not like the fact that he swung at a 3-0 pitch and almost hit another home run," Maddon told reporters in the Rays clubhouse. “So he intentionally hit him when he did, there’s no question in my mind that he did, and the sad part is that I’ve always considered Lackey a good teammate, but right there he can get one of his own players hurt."
Maddon and Lackey had been together in the Angels organization, Maddon as a coach, Lackey as a World Series hero.
“I really did sense among the group of Red Sox that they were totally not into that moment because they knew it was inappropriate to hit Matt on purpose, and furthermore because one of them can get hurt," Maddon said. “So that’s being a bad teammate as far as I’m concerned. In the past, he was always a good teammate. That was really a bad moment for him tonight.
“I found that rather amusing, and I am upset because I’ve always considered him a friend and I still want to consider him a friend, but when it comes to baseball and us playing them, that was a really inappropriate gesture on his part," Maddon said. “He could have been ejected immediately."
And thus another entry in a long list of Rays-Red Sox contretemps. Last season, there was bench-clearing melee in May in which then-Sox manager Bobby Valentine lambasted the behavior of the Rays coaches, claiming they acted as provocateurs rather than peacemakers, which led Maddon to fire a few choice barbs back at Bobby V.
The incidents accumulated long before Bobby V.; Gerald Williams and Pedro Martinez, Brian Daubach at the bottom of a pile of Rays, Coco Crisp and "Big Game" James Shields to name a few memorable dust-ups of the past.
How much Lackey fueled the Rays’ efforts Monday night can’t be measured, of course, but the suspicion is it didn’t hurt. The Rays, who had home runs from Joyce and Evan Longoria in the first off Lackey, tacked on two more runs against him before he left in the sixth, got a home run from James Loney off Andrew Miller in the seventh, then tied the score twice -- once in the eighth on a wild pitch by Junichi Tazawa, and again in the 10th on a home run by Jose Lobaton and three walks, the last a bases-loaded free pass by Sox closer Andrew Bailey.
The Sox have now won six of seven against the Rays this season, Monday’s win coming on the shoulders of two pitchers who Farrell never planned to use: Franklin Morales, who threw a 30-pitch side session Monday afternoon in advance of what was supposed to have been a start Wednesday, and Koji Uehara, who had thrown 31 pitches the day before. Uehara pitched a scoreless 11th and 12th, and Morales finished off the Rays in the 13th and 14th for the win.
“I can’t be walking three guys, I’ve got to be shutting it down there," Bailey said, “but Koji picked us up, and Franklin came in and got the job done."