ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Dustin Pedroia was out by 15 feet. The relay throw beat him to the plate and Tampa Bay catcher Luke Maile was waiting with the ball.
“I had nowhere to go,” Pedroia said.
What followed was a baseball version of Twister, or maybe it was the Hokey Pokey in cleats.
Pedroia slowed down as he approached the plate and elected not to slide. He dodged as Maile dove. Maile swiped and Pedroia skipped. The third attempt at a tag actually worked, but the ball flew out of Maile’s glove as he slapped it on Pedroia’s left leg.
Pedroia jumped on the plate with both hands and umpire Sam Holbrook signaled he was safe. Nearly four seconds lapsed from the time Maile caught the ball. It only seemed like forever for those watching.
“A lot happened,” Pedroia said.
The result was a 3-2 victory in 10 innings for the Red Sox. Their winning streak, now 11 games, lives on.
At 92-64, the Sox have tied the Texas Rangers for the best record in the American League. They lead the AL East by 5½ games with six to play and can clinch as soon as Tuesday in New York if Toronto loses one of its next two games. The magic number is two.
David Ortiz, who doubled to the gap in right field with Pedroia on first base, was astonished his teammate scored.
“That was crazy, right? That was crazy. It seemed like he was dancing at the plate,” Ortiz said.
That Eddie Gamboa was on the mound for Tampa Bay factored into the play. Maile was using an extra-large glove to catch the knuckleballer and that may have contributed to the ball coming loose.
“It was a weird play, especially with a knuckleball glove,” said Maile, who was charged with an error. “I never really felt it come out . . . It’s a play you’ve got to make.”
Pedroia, who homered earlier in the game, thought the floppy glove was a factor once the play was over.
“It probably was a little flimsy, so it happens,” he said.
When the Sox finally break out the champagne, they’ll remember this game for more than Pedroia’s soft-shoe act. Their pitchers set a team record with 23 strikeouts, including a major league record of 11 in a row.
The 23 strikeouts were the most in a 10-inning game since at least 1913 and the most in a game of any length since 2004.
“The power that was thrown from the mound today was just incredible, honestly. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “It was one hell of a day from the mound.”
Lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez had 13 strikeouts through 5⅓ innings, his personal best. He fanned the final six batters he faced, then turned a 2-1 lead over to Heath Hembree, who struck out all five Rays he saw. That broke the consecutive strikeout record set by the Mets’ Tom Seaver on April 22, 1970, against the Padres.
The strikeout streak ended when Logan Forsythe singled off Matt Barnes to start the eighth inning.
With two on and one out, Farrell went to lefthander Fernando Abad to face lefthanded-hitting Brad Miller.
Lefthanders were 2 for 22 against Abad since he was acquired from the Twins at the trade deadline. But Miller singled to right to tie the game.
Joe Kelly was able to keep the score there, getting Nick Franklin to ground into a double play.
Kelly went 2⅔ innings for the victory, adding four strikeouts to the mix. He stranded two runners in the bottom of the 10th inning, getting Miller on a line drive to left field.
The game was a significant one for Rodriguez. The 23-year-old lefthander has been sharp in his last two starts, giving up three runs on seven hits over 11⅔ innings with three walks and 20 strikeouts.
He’ll likely get one more start next week, but Rodriguez appears to have secured a spot in the postseason rotation.
“I’m trying the best I can try,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just thinking of winning the games and giving the best that I can give.”
Rodriguez faced the Rays on June 27 at Tropicana Field and allowed nine runs in 2⅔ innings. He was demoted to Triple A Pawtucket immediately afterward and did not return for nearly three weeks.
He has a 3.10 earned run average in 12 starts since.
“I have all my pitches now,” Rodriguez said. “My confidence is there and I’m going after the hitters.”
With six games left to play, the Sox already have won 14 more than they did last season. Farrell stands to be the first Sox manager to win two division titles since Joe Morgan in 1988 and ’90.
This is the first Sox team to sweep three consecutive series from divisional opponents.
“Today was big lift for us,” Farrell said. “We scratched and clawed our way back into a game in which we give up the lead late. Pedey’s right in the middle of it again.”