Johnson, who woke up in Pennsylvania in Triple-A and was scratched from Tampa Bay’s starting lineup because he didn’t get into town until just before the first pitch, hit a tying, pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning. Dioner Navarro then doubled in the go-ahead run to help the Rays beat Boston 5-4 Tuesday night and extend their division lead.
“Sometimes things work out just in your favor,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who credited the victory to the airline that flew Johnson to Boston. “It’s a pretty significant win, particularly here, what’s been going on (and) where we’re at in the race.”
While the Rays moved 1 1/2 ahead of the Red Sox, the AL Central got tighter. The White Sox were swept by the Blue Jays in a doubleheader, and the Twins beat the Royals to close within a game of Chicago.
Toronto has won 10 straight, and crept within seven games of Boston in the wild-card race.
The Angels failed to clinch the AL West in their first opportunity to do so, falling to the Yankees while the Rangers beat the Mariners to keep the magic number at two.
The Rays had lost four straight and six of seven games — and the Red Sox had won six of seven, including a 3-0 victory in the series opener — to cut Tampa Bay’s division lead from 5 1/2 games to just a half-game.
With a victory Tuesday, the Red Sox could have moved into first place for the first time since June 28; instead, the Rays are assured of leading the AL East when they begin a weekend series against the New York Yankees on Friday.
It was the first win for a road team in the season series between the Red Sox and Rays, who finish up the series on Wednesday and have Thursday off. Boston holds a six-game lead in the AL wild-card standings over Minnesota, which beat Kansas City.
“If it comes down to them winning the home field by one game, maybe we’ll look back at this game,” said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who homered. “But we’ll see.”
Tampa Bay took a 3-1 lead in the fourth and still led 3-2 with two outs in the eighth when Dan Wheeler (4-5) walked Kevin Youkilis and then Jason Bay barely cleared the Green Monster to give Boston the lead. Bay, acquired at the trade deadline, homered for the third straight game.
But Jonathan Papelbon (5-4) blew a save opportunity for the fifth time this season.
“Jason’s home run gave us a good feeling and we have all the confidence in the world in Pap,” Lowell said. “But Pap’s a human being. He’s been so good for three years, it’s almost like he’s automatic.”
Johnson got a call at 9 a.m. telling him he was being called up from Triple-A Durham, which was set to open the International League’s championship series against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Most of the planes out of Scranton were grounded due to the weather, but he found a seat on a much-delayed early morning flight to Philadelphia.
After buying a pair of shoes in the airport — he’d only packed a couple of T-shirts for Durham’s two-day road trip — he got on a plane scheduled to land in Boston at 4:30. It didn’t arrive until closer to 6:30, about 30 minutes before game time.
“It’s been real hectic, so there’s not really much time to reflect,” he said. “It went from not being able to hit in the cage, to not being able to loosen up my arm. I’m just cutting things off, saying, ’Well, maybe I’ll be able to swing in on deck.”’
Johnson made it into the game as a pinch-hitter in the ninth, hitting a drive over the Red Sox bullpen in right to tie it. One out later, Fernando Perez doubled and Navarro did the same to make it 5-4.
Troy Percival pitched the ninth for his 28th save. Wheeler earned the victory despite coughing up the lead, allowing two runs in the eighth inning.
Blue Jays 3, White Sox 1, 1st game
Blue Jays 8, White Sox 2, 2nd game
At Chicago, Marco Scutaro hit a leadoff homer and Scott Rolen and Vernon Wells also went deep for Toronto to sweep the doubleheader and extend its winning streak to 10.
Chicago’s Paul Konerko was helped off the field in the fifth inning of the second game with what the team called a mildly sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
Toronto is on its longest winning streak since a franchise-record 11 straight from Aug. 27-Sept. 7, 1998. The Blue Jays moved within seven games of Boston in the AL wild card.
In the first game, the Blue Jays’ Lyle Overbay hit a two-run, two-out double in the sixth off Javier Vazquez (11-13), and Rod Barajas singled in a run in the ninth.
Yankees 7, Angels 1
At Anaheim, Calif., Johnny Damon homered twice, Alex Rodriguez added a three-run shot and New York kept the Angels’ AL West title celebration on ice.
The Angels’ loss left their magic number at two for clinching their fourth division crown in five years. They can pop the champagne corks Wednesday with a victory in the series finale and a Texas loss at Seattle.
Twins 7, Royals 2
At Minneapolis, Denard Span had three hits and Justin Morneau homered for Minnesota, which closes within a game of Chicago in the AL Central.
Nick Blackburn (10-8) allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings and the Twins roughed up Brian Bannister (7-15), who gave up seven runs and 10 hits in 3 2-3 innings.
Athletics 3, Tigers 2
At Detroit, Emil Brown’s sacrifice fly capped Oakland’s two-run eighth inning.
Rajai Davis had two triples for Oakland, which has won three of four.
Indians 6, Orioles 1
At Baltimore, Jeremy Sowers (3-8) pitched eight innings of four-hit ball and Travis Hafner had two singles in his long-awaited return from the disabled list for Cleveland.
Rangers 7, Mariners 3
At Seattle, Marlon Byrd and Taylor Teagarden both had two-out, two-run doubles and drove in three runs for Texas.