On Saturday night, division-leading Boston allowed Tampa Bay to feel like kings for all of an inning before reminding all why the Red Sox are at the top of the American League East standings and why the Rays are not.
The reminder came in the ninth inning with the Rays clinging to a one-run lead. And Al Reyes, who had met with disaster the last time he faced the Red Sox, gave it up again.
First came Jason Varitek's opposite-field solo shot on an 0-1 pitch to tie the game. Former Rays shortstop Julio Lugo then finished the job with a two-run homer on Reyes' first pitch to give the Red Sox an 8-6 win in front of a crowd of 34,626 at Tropicana Field.
"They've got something going on," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Reyes suffered his fourth blown save of the season -- and third to the Red Sox, with the others coming Aug. 14 and Sept. 12 at Fenway Park.
"With Varitek, I tried to stay away, but I left the pitch up," Reyes said. "Lugo, it's my location. I tried to throw a fastball away and it came back in."
Reyes has now allowed 13 home runs -- the most among Major League relievers -- and he's one shy of the club record held by Travis Harper and Brian Meadows.
Particularly demoralizing for the Rays was what the ninth inning erased.
Tampa Bay had trailed the entire game, chipping away at Boston leads throughout the contest until Carlos Pena hit a two-out three-run homer off Javier Lopez in the seventh to finally put the Rays on top, 6-5. Pena's long ball was his second of the game and gave him 42 for the season.
"It would have been great if we could have pulled it off right there," said Pena, who grew up just north of Boston in Haverhill, Mass. "Obviously you have fun when you win. Today they came back. You have to tip your hat. We had them and they came back. That's incredible.
"You've got to get that 27th [out] before you can celebrate. We all know that, because we've seen that for years. We know you have to go after these guys all the way until the end, because they're capable of crazy comebacks. Today we needed three outs to win, and they came right back swinging those bats and they came back with the win."
The Red Sox's win, coupled with the Tigers' loss, secured Boston's 18th postseason berth in club history, making Terry Francona the first manager in franchise history to lead his teams to three playoff appearances. The last time his squad clinched a playoff spot at Tropicana Field was in 2004.
"We are right where we want to be," Lugo said. "It's nice to do something and to win and make it to the playoffs. That's what you come here for. It's a good team and good guys. I was happy we had a chance to win."
After securing the final out, Red Sox players celebrated on the infield, something Maddon wanted his team to see.
"I do like that," Maddon said. "I've gone through that in my past -- in my previous life [in the Angels' organization] -- and hated it. And then when you get a chance to do it yourself, you know what it feels like. So I'm good with our guys seeing that, because that's our goal, to be jumping up and down on the pitcher's mound. We just have to get to the point where these games mean more to us than the other team and then you'll see us doing just what they did to us tonight."
Pena said he and his teammates did not like seeing what took place after the game.
"Believe me, all of us in here, we were hurting," Pena said. "Obviously we wanted to come out of this with a win. We've got pride. We want to win every single one of those games. We see the Red Sox celebrating on our turf and we hate it. We really do."
Maddon narrowed down the difference between the Sox and the also-rans.
"These guys give a lot of teams a hard time," Maddon said. "And it comes down to their inner resolve. When you're truly playing for the cup and you want to get to the dance, there's a difference. And when you're playing this time of year with the pennant feeling, it matters."
"I just loved the way we played, and that's unfortunate about what happened in the ninth inning," Maddon added. "And they've done it before. That's the third time they've done it to us this year. Again, they have this thing -- good veterans that really care. And they beat us, pure and simple."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.