Nonetheless, this wasn't the type of momentum the Red Sox (62-44) wanted to take into their four-game showdown in the Bronx against the Yankees, which opens Thursday night.
But Brad Penny, who gave up five runs (including three homers) over six innings, didn't give them much choice. Where the Rays often frustrate the Red Sox by running rampantly around the bases, the long ball was their weapon of choice in this one. Tampa Bay clocked four homers, accounting for all of its runs.
"As a whole tonight, we didn't give up a ton of hits but four of them left the ballpark," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
What is it about the Trop that has given the Red Sox fits the past two years? Perhaps Rocco Baldelli, the former Rays outfielder currently with the Red Sox, could best put it in perspective.
"I don't think any team likes coming in here, to be honest with you," said Baldelli. "I kind of got that sense throughout my career here. I haven't talked to too many guys in the league that say, 'I like playing at Tropicana Field.' No one says that. They all say that they don't like it, and I don't know, maybe it's just an uncomfortable place for people when they're not used to it."
It doesn't get any more comfortable when the Rays send a promising young lefty to the mound like David Price (5-4). The man who snuffed out Boston's World Series bid from the bullpen in Game 7 of last October's American League Championship Series stymied the Sox in a starting role this time around, holding them to two runs over six innings.
"He threw a lot of strikes and that's the thing," said Lowell. "From our scouting reports, when he got in trouble, he wasn't throwing strikes. I don't think anyone questions his stuff. I think actually he's maybe taken a tick off his velocity to be able to locate his pitches. When he needs it, he's still at 95 [mph]. There's a reason there's a lot of hype for him. He's going to be good."
Instead of distancing themselves from the third-place Rays, the Red Sox allowed Tampa Bay (60-48) to close the gap between the two teams to three games. The Sox will return to Tropicana Field for a three-game series, beginning on Sept. 1. Meanwhile, the Red Sox trail the Yankees by 2 1/2 games in the AL East heading into the series in New York.
"We knew this would be a tough road trip coming in here and heading up there," said Baldelli. "Four games in New York I think is a big series for any team that has aspirations of playing in the playoffs. We know that they have their big pitchers going, so we have to be ready."
Jason Bay gave the Red Sox an early jolt, ripping a solo homer to left with one out in the second. For Bay, it was his first home run in 61 at-bats and second since June 23. The night would turn sour for Bay, however, who aggravated the right hamstring that had kept him out of the previous two games. Bay said he might be out for "a day or two".
"It was great," Bay said of his home run. "It's been a while for me."
Penny, however, didn't hold that slight lead for long. In the bottom of the second, Carlos Pena belted a prodigious two-run homer to right, putting Tampa Bay on top.
The Rays again got a big rip in the third, this one a two-run homer by Carl Crawford to make it 4-1.
Victor Martinez chipped the deficit back to two runs when he homered to left in the sixth. It was his first long ball in a Boston uniform.
But Penny (7-6) again offset the momentum, as Pat Burrell added a solo shot to left in the sixth.
"It was three swings," said Penny. "They scored all their runs on the long ball, and that goes back to me not wanting to walk someone and giving in a little bit when I should have stayed focused and not worried about throwing a strike, but a quality strike."
The Red Sox got a favor to open the seventh, as second baseman Ben Zobrist dropped a popup by Baldelli for a two-base error. Jason Varitek moved Baldelli to third with a grounder to second, and Jed Lowrie did the exact same thing to get the run home, making it a 5-3 game.
Perhaps the Red Sox will solve their woes at the Trop when they return at the start of September.
"I don't know that we evaluate ballparks," said Francona. "They're a good team. I don't think it's this place. I think it's who we're playing. They're good. They've played us very tough."