ANAHEIM -- Carlos Pena stepped to the plate in the top of the eighth, his .191 batting average mocked him from the scoreboard while he prepared to hit against the Angels' Kevin Jepsen with a runner aboard and the score tied.
No doubt, many Rays fans were wondering what in the world manager Joe Maddon could be thinking by pinch-hitting Pena for Sean Rodriguez, who, in theory, could have bunted Jeff Keppinger into scoring position.
Maddon would say they liked the matchup of Pena against Jepsen. Pena validated his manager's faith by re-routing a 2-2 fastball into the stands in right, giving Pena his 16th homer of the season and his first career pinch-hit homer. Most importantly, the blast gave the Rays a lead, completing an astounding rally from eight runs down for a 10-8 win over the Angels on Saturday night at Angel Stadium with 41,086 watching.
By equaling the largest comeback in team history, the Rays (66-54) moved to within five games of the American League East-leading Yankees while maintaining their one-game lead over the Orioles for the AL's top Wild Card spot.
The Rays have now won 10 of their last 12 games while improving to 7-2 on their 10-game road trip that ends here on Sunday.
Not only had Pena been slumping, he had worn the goat horns during Tuesday night's 3-2 loss to Seattle with a ninth-inning throwing error. So these have been difficult times for the Rays regular first baseman.
"It was definitely just a big relief, a big moment for me," Pena said. "And sometimes when I personally have a bad game, I'm good at brushing it off. But when difficult times hit, sometimes it becomes harder and harder to do so. So to be able to come today and to help my ballclub out like this, that simple act of being able to hit that home run and help the ballclub win, it feels great. It feels so good. I felt like a little kid. When I was running around the bases it was just fun, plain old fun."
The prospect of such a rally looked preposterous in the early going. Angels starter C.J. Wilson seemed to be on cruise control heading into the fifth inning. The Angels held an 8-0 lead after pounding Alex Cobb and the Rays had just one hit. Then the Rays went Game No. 162 on the Angels left-hander.
Rodriguez and Ryan Roberts cobbled together one-out singles before Jose Lobaton drew a walk to load the bases. Sam Fuld followed with a single through the middle to score the Rays' first run.
Desmond Jennings walked to drive home the Rays' second run. Hot-hitting B.J. Upton went down swinging for the second out to bring Ben Zobrist to the plate with the bases still loaded and he doubled to left to clear the bases. Evan Longoria finished off the fifth with a two-run homer to right-center field to cut the lead to 8-7 and chase Wilson.
"The two homers by Longo and 'Los were huge, but [Zobrist's] double was just as big," Fuld said.
Roberts doubled off Jason Isringhausen with one out in the sixth and moved to third on a passed ball. Lobaton then delivered a sacrifice fly to left to tie the game at 8.
Despite some excitement in the bottom of the ninth when the Angels had runners at second and third with just one out, Fernando Rodney managed to preserve the win, earning his 38th save of the season while finishing off a superb bullpen effort.
Burke Badenhop, J.P. Howell, Kyle Farnsworth, Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Rodney combined to pitch 6 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.
"I really felt all along we had a chance. I mean that sincerely because Wilson wasn't as sharp as he normally can be," Maddon said. "We've been doing a nice job of scoring runs. It was all about the bullpen. They were fabulous. Every one of them did a great job, and of course we did come back. We got the hits that were necessary. But the bullpen permitted that to all happen."
Entering the game, the Rays' starting rotation had posted a 13-2 record with a 1.71 ERA over the last 19 starts. Cobb was riding an August wave that had seen him win three straight on three consecutive quality starts while allowing just one run in each start.
But Angels hitters made a quick study of the 24-year-old right-hander, scoring eight runs on 12 hits in 2 2/3 innings highlight by home runs hit by Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.
"It was one of those days starting off where you thought it was going to be a long day going the other way," Longoria said. "Only because of our history with C.J.; he's pitched so well against us. He's been able to put us away, seven or eight innings strong. And it was just kind of different how it happened today."
Saturday night's win matched the largest comeback in Rays history, tying the July 25, 2009, win at Toronto when they erased a 9-1 deficit to take a 10-9 win over the Blue Jays.
"It's definitely disappointing, there's no doubt about it," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "You can't lose leads like that and get where you want to be. Afterwards, I think the guys cleared some things in the air and feel good about moving forward, and hopefully we're going to get into a little bit better place here."
Meanwhile, in the Rays clubhouse, the visiting team knew it had captured a special win.
"We'll all remember this one," Fuld said. "Win or lose at the end of the year, we'll remember this one."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.