ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Mike Carp wanted to put on a show for his agent, Tom O’Connell, so he hit homer after homer in batting practice Tuesday. Wednesday night, Carp did it for real — hitting a first-pitch 10th-inning pinch-hit grand slam off Roberto Hernandez to give the Red Sox a dramatic 7-3 win over the fading Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays, known for their great pitching but who recently have become the team that couldn’t hit, did score single runs in the seventh and eighth to tie the game at 3.
Sox manager John Farrell called for Koji Uehara to pitch the ninth, and in retiring the side he set the Red Sox record for most consecutive batters retired (34).
In the 10th, the Red Sox got a leadoff walk by Dustin Pedroia against Joel Peralta. After Shane Victorino advanced him to second on a sacrifice bunt, the Rays walked David Ortiz intentionally. Hernandez came on and he walked Mike Napoli to load the bases.
Carp’s blast was the seventh pinch-hit homer by the Red Sox this season.
Junichi Tazawa was summoned to finish up for Uehara, who got the win.
The win was the high-water mark of the season for the Red Sox, who went 31 games over .500. The division is now becoming a runaway, as predicted by catcher David Ross, who two weeks ago said, “We have haven’t played our best baseball yet, but once we do we’ll run away with it.”
And off they go.
The Red Sox, 9½ games ahead of the Rays, improved to 12-6 against them this season. There was nothing extraordinary about starting pitcher Ryan Dempster, who went five innings, allowing one run but also four hits and five walks.
Dempster was aided by two outstanding defensive plays that saved runs — Napoli’s diving stab of James Loney’s grounder in the second inning and Stephen Drew’s great dive and force play at second to save multiple runs in the third inning.
The Rays scored in the seventh and eighth off Brandon Workman, who walked Ben Zobrist and allowed an RBI double to Evan Longoria in the seventh. He surrendered a homer to Loney in the eighth, tying the score, 3-3.
The Red Sox had hit only .207 against the Rays in their previous 17 meetings this season, so their three-run third inning against starter Alex Cobb could have been called an offensive outburst.
The Red Sox had two on in the second inning with nobody out but Cobb wiggled out of harm’s way. No such luck after one out in the third when Pedroia, batting leadoff in place of the injured Jacoby Ellsbury, singled to right.
Victorino, who had pounded six homers in his last 15 games, continued to bat righthanded against righty pitchers with super results. He doubled to left field to send Pedroia to third.
Rays manager Joe Maddon, who told his team before the game not to be afraid to make mistakes and to continue to play aggressively, had Ortiz walked intentionally to load the bases.
This is where right fielder Wil Myers might have taken Maddon’s advice the wrong way.
Myers came in on Napoli’s sinking liner and initially tried to make the catch, but the ball got by him and two runs scored. The official scorer generously scored it a double. It increased Napoli’s production with the bases loaded to 11 for 21 with 31 RBIs in 22 plate appearances this season.
Daniel Nava’s grounder to second produced the third run.
The Rays, who entered having hit .179 during a 4-12 span, and had only produced 3.17 runs per game since July 31, the fewest in the majors, continued that inefficiency in the second inning after Longoria stroked a leadoff double to left.
With one out, Desmond Jennings walked, but first baseman Napoli made a nice diving stab of Loney’s hot grounder to Napoli’s left. Dempster then fanned Jose Lobaton.
The Rays finally broke through in the third, but only for a run. That was thanks in part to shortstop Drew’s diving stop of a Jennings grounder. Drew popped up to make the throw and forced Matt Joyce at second base to prevent two more runs from scoring.
Yunel Escobar and David DeJesus doubled to open the inning to produce the run. After Dempster got two outs, he hit Longoria with a pitch and walked Joyce to load the bases. Drew’s play against Jennings was simply more bad luck by the Rays’ offense.
In the fifth, the Rays put the first two men on when DeJesus walked and Myers singled through the hole at short. But Zobrist knocked into a double play. Then Dempster walked Longoria and Joyce. Bases loaded again. But again the Rays couldn’t get a hit. Jennings struck out on a foul tip.
Dempster threw 106 pitches over the five innings he worked, allowing one run. He walked five with seven strikeouts. He was replaced by seldom-used Franklin Morales, who gave the team a shutout sixth.
Cobb missed 50 games after he was struck in the head by a line drive from Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer June 15 and suffered a concussion.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.