It didn't matter that the guy pitching for the White Sox had no-hit stuff, nor did the rain bother them -- they simply reached inside for that intangible element familiar to championship teams, and once again they came away winners in a 5-3 come-from-behind victory over the White Sox in front of a crowd of 36,482 at U.S. Cellular Field.
"It's not about amazement, it's just about execution," said Rays manager Joe Maddon after being asked if he ever gets amazed by his team. "The thing I'm liking is the effort. When you've got that kind of effort, physical and mental effort every day, you're going to do some surprising things."
The Rays moved to 79-49 on the season, while improving their road record to above .500, at 32-31. Additionally, they expanded their lead in the American League East to 5 1/2 games, as the second-place Red Sox lost to Toronto, 11-0.
Javier Vazquez started for the White Sox and was perfect through 5 2/3 innings.
"He's got every single pitch, and he throws them for a strike, every single one of them," Carlos Pena said. "He was throwing balls 95 mph. ... Then, next thing you know, he'll throw you a changeup on the black, so it's a combination of finesse and power."
Jason Bartlett finally broke Vazquez's spell with a double down the left-field line with two out in the sixth inning, but it wasn't until the eighth, when the rain came and the Rays loaded the bases, that they were finally able to chase the veteran right-hander. That's when White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen looked at his matchup sheet and saw that the next hitter, Akinori Iwamura, had faced Matt Thornton four times and had struck out four times against the powerful left-hander.
Iwamura, who drove in the Rays' first run with a sixth-inning single, fought Thornton for 13 pitches before drawing a walk to force in a run.
"We were just trying to put some good at-bats together [in the eighth] and I think the best example of that was Aki's at-bat," Pena said, admiringly. "Staying within himself, seeing the ball, working the count to 3-2, then fouling off a bunch of pitches and finally getting a walk.
"That's not easy, man. You've got to be cold-blooded to be in that situation and concentrate on only seeing the ball, and staying in your zone and stuff like that. Needless to say, it's not normal for a human being to maintain, stay poised in a situation like that, and Aki did it unbelievably. ... It takes its toll on a pitcher. ... I think that was the key at-bat in that rally."
B.J. Upton followed with an RBI single to tie the game at 3, before Pena's two-run single then put the Rays up, 5-3.
"[My] first reaction was, 'I want to do something really big,'" Pena said. "But again, calm yourself down, don't get too excited, go back to the basics. 'I know this guy throws hard, but what's the ultimate thing you want to do?' You want to see the ball and you want to be relaxed and that's going to give you the best chance possible to actually do something. And I was able to execute my plan, and next thing you know, base hit to right field."
Starter Scott Kazmir managed to keep the Rays in the game despite Vazquez's performance, holding the White Sox to three runs on four hits while walking two and striking out seven in six innings to gain a no-decision.
"Everything felt great," said Kazmir, who needed 47 pitches to get through the first two innings. "I was throwing back-door sliders. The changeup was going good, a lot of offspeed for strikes."
Two of the runs against Kazmir came via Jermaine Dye's 30th and 31st home runs of the season.
"Both of those pitches that he hit out I really liked those pitches," Kazmir said. "I thought they were for the most part where I wanted.
"The first one was a changeup that ended up being low, had him out front, but he still got it. And the other one was a fastball that I wanted in and I threw it in, six inches off the plate in, and he just kind of come off his stance and hit it. I didn't really think that ball would go out but it did. It's OK just giving up those solo shots, as long as I kept attacking."
Grant Balfour and Chad Bradford pitched two scoreless frames leading up to Dan Wheeler pitching a scoreless ninth, setting the White Sox down in order to preserve the win and earn his eighth save of the season.
Kazmir watched all the action on a TV in the clubhouse after he left the game. A smile spread across his face when asked about what he saw.
"Once the eighth inning comes around, it just feels like we change our whole approach," Kazmir said. "I don't know any other way to explain it. You just look at the at-bats we were taking. We really just battled out there. It doesn't matter how many runs we are down, it just seems like the eighth and ninth we really buckle down."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.