The Tampa Bay Rays edged the visiting Boston Red Sox 4-3 last night, thereby avoiding being swept in the key three-game series at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
After a string of losses this month, the Rays (79-66) are clinging to a one-game lead for the second Wild Card spot in the American League East while the Red Sox (89-59) are firmly in control of first place, with an 8-1/2 game lead over Tampa going into tonight’s action.
The Boston Red Sox suffered through a disastrous September in the past two seasons, but this year with a roster mix of their established stars and various role players they appear to be positioned for a deep playoff run.
According to NESN, “The Red Sox will head back to Boston for the last regular-season homestand of the season in very good shape, having gone 5-2 on the road trip and winning seven straight series, effectively putting a damper on the playoff hopes of fellow AL East teams in the process.”
Sox starter Jake Peavy did not have a vintage outing, walking five (a season high) over six innings and giving up three earned runs and four hits (three of which went for extra bases, however). A line drive struck his wrist in the sixth inning but X-rays came back negative.
Rays’ starter Jeremy Hellickson pitched 5.1 innings and also gave up three runs. David Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia both homered off of Hellickson, while slumping Desmond Jennings went deep against Peavy.
The game was decide din the eighth when Rays star Evan Longoria blasted a double off of struggling reliever Rubby De La Rosa, followed by a bloop double — that barely landed in fair territory — by right fielder Wil Myers, who drove in Longoria.
The Sox bullpen was depleted as a result of the previous two hard-fought games.
The Sox had two men on in the bottom of the ninth, but Will Middebrooks’ screaming line drive was caught by Longoria and Dustin Pedroia popped out.
In game one of the series, the returning Clay Buchholz outdueled Rays ace David Price 2-0. Buchholz (now 10-0) was injured for most of the summer. Buchholz — who was reinstated from the 60-day disabled list — went five innings, and the shutout was preserved by Sox relievers Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and lights-out closer Koji Uehara. Price pitched eight innings and struck out nine and what could have been a win if he received any run support. The Sox scored both of their runs in the fifth off of a Jonny Gomes single and a Jarrod Saltalamacchia sacrifice fly. Saltalamacchia also threw out two runners at second.
In game two Wednesday night, pinch hitter Mike Carp broke a 3-3 tie in the top of the tenth with a stunning grand slam off (see embed above) off Rays reliever Roberto Hernandez. Carp, who batted in place of Jonny Gomes, blasted the homer to center field (411 feet) on the first pitch, the deepest part of the park. Neither starters (Ryan Dempster, Alex Cobb) figured in the outcome. Sox shortstop Stephen Drew made what was likely a game-saving play in the third inning with the bases loaded “when he drove to his right to field Desmond Jennings’ grounder and then throw out Matt Joyce at second base.” Sox Manager John Farrell in a sense flip-flopped his setup man and closer, with Uehara pitching the ninth (and getting the win) while Tazawa came on in the tenth to close the door on the Rays. The Rays nearly pulled off a triple play in the sixth with runners on first and second.