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. On Wednesday night, Carp did it for real — his first-pitch 10th-inning pinch-hit grand slam off Roberto Hernandez gave the Red Sox a dramatic 7-3 win over the fading Tampa Bay Rays.
Carp sat for nine-plus innings and then delivered the blow.
“It’s tough any time you pinch hit in the big leagues,” Carp said. “Just to get those opportunities all year long, we’ve been wanting them, kind of foaming at the mouth. I’m just excited to be part of something like that.”
“I just wanted to get a run in,” Carp added about the at-bat. “He hung a slider and I ended up doing a lot more than I expected to do with it. The ball carried over the fence. Unbelievable, grand slam. I’m not letting a good pitch go by. He gave me something to hit and it got up in the air and just kept going.”
It was the seventh pinch-hit home run by the Red Sox this season, a team record. So it’s not just the every-day players doing the job; the backups have done it as well.
Carp is in a tough spot because he wants to be good at his job, but not so good that he never gets a chance to be a starting player. He’s batting .322 with eight homers vs. righthanded pitchers this season. It was the first go-ahead pinch-hit grand slam in extra innings since Adam Dunn did it for Cincinnati May 26, 2003, in Atlanta.
The Rays, known for their great pitching but who recently had become the team that couldn’t hit, did score single runs in the seventh and eighth against Brandon Workman (an RBI double to Evan Longoria in the seventh and a home run to James Loney in the eighth), tying the score, 3-3.
Manager John Farrell called on Koji Uehara to pitch the ninth, and in getting the side in order he set a 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.
Pedroia said of the Carp homer, “The ball just exploded off his bat.” Pedroia knew it was gone, but third base coach Brian Butterfield made him tag up. “I felt like an idiot tagging up,” said Pedroia. “It was so loud when it came off the bat.”
Junichi Tazawa worked the 10th and preserved the win for Uehara.
The win marked the high-water mark of the season for the Red Sox, who are 31 games over .500 in what is now becoming the runaway predicted by catcher David Ross, who two weeks ago said, “We 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 four hits and five walks.
Dempster was aided by two outstanding defensive plays that saved runs — Napoli’s diving stab of 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.
The Red Sox had hit only .207 against the Rays in their previous 17 meetings, so their three-run third inning against starter Alex Cobb could have been called an offensive landslide.
Pedroia, batting leadoff these days in place of the injured Jacoby Ellsbury, singled to right field with one out. Victorino, who had pounded six homers in his previous 15 games, continued to bat righthanded against a righty with super results — his double to left sent Pedroia to third.
Rays manager Joe Maddon, who was second-guessed for taking Peralta out in the 10th for Hernandez, told his team before the game to not be afraid to make mistakes but to play smart, yet aggressive. Maddon walked Ortiz intentionally to load the bases.
Right fielder Wil Myers may have been too aggressive when he came in on Napoli’s sinking liner and initially tried to make the catch, but then let the ball play him. It got by him and two runs scored. The official scorer generously ruled 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 of the inning.
The Rays finally broke through in the third, but only for a run, thanks in part to Drew’s diving stop in the 5-6 hole of Desmond Jennings’s grounder. Drew popped up and forced Matt Joyce at second base to prevent two more runs from scoring.
“It was a big play at the time and I’m just happy I could make it,” Drew said. “I think if it had gone through they could have scored and kept the inning going and who knows what could have happened.”Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.