ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rays keep finding ways to hang in the AL playoff race.
"You're not always going to win. It's not always going to be an oil painting," manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday night after his team rebounded from a sloppy performance the previous day to beat Boston 8-5 and avoid falling farther behind the wild-card leading Red Sox.
"It's about effort and intent," Maddon added, "and I saw that the last two nights."
Pat Burrell snapped an eighth-inning tie with a RBI single and Evan Longoria followed with a two-run homer, enabling the defending AL champions nudge back within five games of Boston in the wild-card standings.
J.P. Howell (7-4) pitched one inning to earn the victory, despite allowing the Red Sox to tie it at 5 in the eighth on a wild pitch with the bases loaded. Dan Wheeler got the final two outs for his second save.
Carlos Pena led off the bottom of the eighth with a double off Ramon Ramirez (7-4), then scored on Burrell's single to right-center. Longoria hit his 26th home run -- eighth against Boston this season -- on reliever Manny Delcarmen's first pitch.
"Every time we play the Red Sox, it's kind of like this. ... They're playing for something, we're playing for something. I love it. Our guys love it," Maddon said.
"We're in the mix of things," Pena said. "It's really exciting to think about the upcoming games that we have. We're very optimistic."
Burrell and Carl Crawford hit solo home runs off Red Sox ace Josh Beckett, who gave up five runs and seven hits while striking out nine in six innings. The Rays led 5-1 before the Red Sox scored twice in the fourth and once in the seventh to get back in the game.
Jason Bay, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew and Victor Martinez drove in runs off Rays starter Matt Garza, who allowed four runs and six hits in 6 2/3 innings but could not get his first victory since July 24 -- a stretch of seven starts.
Boston pulled even in the eighth, loading the bases on three walks before scoring on Howell's wild pitch. The Red Sox could not get the others home, though, and finished 3 for 16 with runners in scoring position.
"We got it tied," Boston manager Terry Francona said, "and it got away."
Tampa Bay, which dropped a season-high six games behind the Red Sox on Tuesday night, leads the season series between the teams 9-5, including a 6-2 advantage at Tropicana Field. The Rays also trail Texas by 2½ games in the wild-card race.
"They play us tough. I think selfishly when we won [Tuesday night] it was kind of a safety net knowing the worst we could do is give up one game," Bay said.
"That's a good team and they always play us tough, so I think it's a just a little reminder that it ain't over yet. Ultimately, we still like the spot we're in."
Although he settled after a rocky first three innings, Beckett has not pitched well the past month, allowing 14 home runs over his past five starts after giving up 10 in his first 22 starts of the season.
During that stretch, the right-hander has yielded 27 runs in 31 1/3 innings.
"We lost. There's not a lot of positives out of it," Beckett said. "Obviously the big inning was the second inning. I thought I made some adjustments after that."
Crawford homered in the first and Burrell went deep in the second, when Tampa Bay also scored on Akinori Iwamura's RBI single and B.J. Upton's sacrifice bunt, which first baseman Victor Martinez fielded and threw to the plate too late to keep Gregg Zaun from scoring from third.
Zaun's RBI double made it 5-1 in the third.
Boston scored on Bay's RBI triple in the second, then added two more in the fourth on Drew's run-scoring single and Ortiz's RBI grounder. The Red Sox trimmed their deficit to 5-4 when Martinez singled with two outs in the seventh to finish Garza.
"For some reason the last two starts, I just haven't had that late life," Garza said. "I have to figure out how to get it back. That's all there is to it."
- Ortiz has 100 career RBI against the Rays.
- The Rays promoted RHP Wade Davis from Triple-A Durham to make his major league debut against Detroit on Sunday.
- Rays senior advisor Don Zimmer had successful surgery for decompression of a nerve in his lower back. He is expected to be released from the hospital later this week and Dr. Tom Tolli expects a full recovery in six to eight weeks.