Boston Red Sox: Tampa Bay Rays

Tonight's Red Sox game postponed

April, 30, 2014
Official release from the Red Sox:

Tonight’s Red Sox-Rays game has been postponed due to inclement weather. According to the Red Sox professional weather service, Telvent DTN, the current forecast calls for a sustained period of rain to continue throughout the afternoon and evening with temperatures in the low 40’s, and wind gusts as high as 25 miles-per-hour.

Tonight’s game will be rescheduled as the first game of a day-night doubleheader, tomorrow, Thursday, May 1, beginning at 1:05 p.m. Tomorrow’s regularly scheduled game remains at 7:10 p.m. Tickets for tonight’s game will be good for admission to the rescheduled contest at 1:05 p.m., and Dustin Pedroia bobbleheads will be given away to all fans in attendance. NESN will televise both games.

Wrapping up the Red Sox-Rays ALDS

October, 9, 2013
A few final reflections on the Red Sox-Rays ALDS:

• The Red Sox outscored the Rays 25-12, hit .300 with runners in scoring position to Tampa Bay’s .179, and stole six bases to the Rays’ one.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino and David Ortiz (Nos. 1, 2 and 4 in the lineup) were a combined 20 for 45 with 13 runs scored and eight RBIs in the ALDS. Each of the three hit .385 or better.

• Boston took advantage of every opportunity to get on base and every opportunity to score, capitalizing on not just hits, but defensive miscues and wild pitches.

Victorino tied a record for a single postseason by being hit by four pitches. Rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts came off the bench to draw two big walks and score two key runs in the series-clinching win. (He was only the second reserve player with a multi-walk, multi-run game in the postseason, joining Benny Agbayani of the 1999 Mets).

• The Red Sox drew eight walks, and the Rays did not draw any, in Boston’s Game 4 victory. It was the fifth postseason game in major-league history in which one team walked eight or more times while their opponent did not draw a free pass, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The last such game was Game 5 of the 2011 ALCS between the Rangers (8 BB) and Tigers (0 BB).

• Bogaerts entered in the seventh inning and ended up walking twice and scoring twice in Game 4. He is the first player in postseason history with 2 walks and 2 runs as a sub in a 9-inning game. Mets outfielder Benny Agbayani in 1999 NLCS Game 6 was 1-for-1, with 2 walks and 2 runs off the bench in an 11-inning game.

Craig Breslow struck out the first 4 batters he faced in Game 4. In 419 career regular-season games (and 2 previous postseason games), he only struck out 4 batters once.

His value is in that he’s a lefty who can get right-handed hitters out. Right-handed hitters went 2 for 10 against Breslow in the ALDS, basically a match for their .208 batting average against him in the regular season.

Sox, Rays lineups for Game 3

October, 7, 2013
For tonight's Game 3 of the ALDS, the Red Sox are using the same lineup they had in Game 1 with one change -- Daniel Nava is in left field and batting sixth. The Rays, on the other hand, did some shuffling.

Here are the lineups:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Shane Victorino, RF
3. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
4. David Ortiz, DH
5. Mike Napoli, 1B
6. Daniel Nava, LF
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
8. Stephen Drew, SS
9. Will Middlebrooks, 3B
SP -- Clay Buchholz

1. David DeJesus, LF
2. Ben Zobrist, 2B
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Wil Myers, RF
5. James Loney, 1B
6. Desmond Jennings, CF
7. Matt Joyce, DH
8. Yunel Escobar, SS
9. Jose Molina, C
SP -- Alex Cobb

Price isn't right as Sox rough up Rays ace

October, 6, 2013
BOSTON -- No pitcher of recent vintage has been more dominant against the Boston Red Sox than David Price, who was back on the mound Saturday night for his first postseason appearance against Boston since 2008.

Back then, he was a Tampa Bay Rays rookie phenom, coming out of the bullpen to close out the Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series for his first and only career save.

Price drew the start Saturday night in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, having gone 10-6 with a 2.93 ERA in 20 career regular-season starts against Boston.

[+] EnlargeDavid Price
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesDavid Price could only watch as things fell apart in his Game 2 loss.
"I can't give you all my secrets," Price said Friday before Game 1 when asked why he has been so successful against the Red Sox. "Pitching in this ballpark, pitching against that team, it makes you want it just a little bit more."

But the secret was out on Saturday as the Red Sox battered Price to the tune of seven earned runs in seven-plus innings in their 7-4 win over Tampa Bay, sending the 28-year-old ace to 0-4 in four career postseason starts. The Red Sox had never managed to score more than four runs off Price in a single game before Saturday.

"Absolutely, I'm disappointed," Price said. "I don't know what my stat line was, but I know I gave up quite a few earned runs. It stinks, especially in the postseason when you want to go out there and pitch your best."

The Red Sox had Price's number from the get-go. Leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury blooped a single to right on Price's second pitch of the game before stealing second and advancing to third on a throwing error by Rays catcher Jose Molina. Ellsbury would score on a Dustin Pedroia sacrifice fly, which was followed by a David Ortiz solo home run, his first off Price in 42 plate appearances.

The Red Sox tacked on two runs in the third and one apiece in the fourth and fifth to open things up against the 2012 AL Cy Young winner. After a flawless sixth and seventh innings, Price came back out for the eighth with the Rays trailing 6-4. Two pitches later, Ortiz went deep again for the first multi-home-run game a left-handed batter has had against Price.

"I thought David [Price] had really good stuff right up to the last pitch," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He had just had a really good seventh inning and then all of a sudden hangs a fastball to Ortiz, who hits another home run.

"He did not throw the ball badly at all. It was kind of a weird night the way everything set up for them and against us."

Price agreed with that assessment.

"They had some broken-bat singles and broken-bat doubles and 305-foot fly balls go for doubles and triples," he said. "That's part of pitching in this park. They played extremely well and tonight just wasn't my night."

As Maddon put it, the Rays were "out Fenway'd" on Saturday night, victims of several perfectly placed hits and quirky caroms. They find themselves facing elimination as they head back to Tampa for the first time since Sept. 23, a 10-game, five-city span.

It's a tough task to be sure, but a comeback isn't out of the realm of possibility.

"We just went through a week of backs against the wall, so it's not going to be new to us," Maddon said. "It's going to be difficult, there's no question about it. … But I don't think it's impossible by any means. We've been in this boat in the past and we've forced Game 5s in those situations also."

The Rays must win two games at home to force a winner-take-all Game 5 back at Fenway.

"We've been playing Game 7s for the last three games," Price said. "Our game in Toronto was a Game 7. Our game in Texas was a Game 7. Our game in Cleveland was a Game 7. This is nothing we're not used to."

Speaking in his office attached to a desolate clubhouse, all lockers emptied, Maddon said that Price would be back on the mound for a potential Game 5 at Fenway, no ifs about it.

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 7, Rays 4

October, 5, 2013

BOSTON -- David Ortiz is a forgiving type, but when the conversation turns to Bobby Valentine, he never mentions the team's former manager by name, still seething at the radio interview Valentine gave after the 2012 season in which he claimed that Ortiz decided to pack it in after last August's megatrade.

Ortiz couldn't play because of a strained Achilles tendon that also placed this season in some jeopardy, with Ortiz missing spring training and much of April. All the familiar whispers returned, whether Ortiz at 37 could still be the immovable force that has anchored the Sox offense for the better part of a decade.

Six weeks from his 38th birthday, Ortiz added another exclamation point to a story that increasingly has only one possible ending: a statue on Ipswich Street to stand alongside Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.

The greatest slugger in Red Sox postseason history solved a longtime nemesis, left-hander David Price, with two home runs, his first multihomer game in postseason play, to lead the Sox to a 7-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, giving the Sox a 2-0 lead in their American League Division Series.

Ortiz's home runs were bookend solo blasts, a first-inning shot into the Sox bullpen and a majestic eighth-inning drive deep into the right-field grandstand for Boston's final run.

Price reduction: The Rays believed having ace Price on the mound for Game 2 would be the great equalizer, and why not? The left-hander has arguably been the AL's most dominant pitcher since coming off a 45-day stint on the disabled list in July (strained triceps muscle) and had pitched a complete game in Monday night's tiebreaker game against the Texas Rangers in Arlington.

In three starts against the Red Sox since coming back from his injury, Price had allowed just four earned runs in 24 1/3 innings, a 1.48 ERA, striking out 21 and walking none. In 20 career starts against the Sox, Price had never allowed more than four earned runs, and in 13 of his starts he had allowed two runs or fewer.

But the Sox, with the same relentlessness they demonstrated in exploiting Rays mistakes Friday, were unrelenting against Price, Ortiz giving them a 2-0 lead with his first home run into the Sox pen, a lead that expanded with two runs in the third after back-to-back doubles by David Ross (Wall Ball) and Jacoby Ellsbury, another in the fourth on Stephen Drew's RBI triple, another in the fifth on Dustin Pedroia's RBI double and Ortiz taking Price deep in the eighth with a towering drive just inside the foul pole.

Price was charged with seven runs on nine hits.

What weak link? The bridge between the Sox starter and closer Koji Uehara was the source of greatest concern coming into the series, but Craig Breslow rescued John Lackey with one out and the tying run on in the sixth, giving the Sox 1 2/3 scoreless innings, and Junichi Tazawa gave the Sox a scoreless eighth. Both Breslow and Tazawa induced inning-ending double plays.

Lachrymose Lackey: Lackey could not have been handed a better scenario, the Sox staking him to a 5-1 lead through four innings. But whether it was the long layoff -- Lackey had not started since Sept. 24 -- or because he is showing signs of hitting the wall in his first season back from Tommy John surgery (5.22 ERA in six starts in September/October), the right-hander had just one clean inning and was dismissed with one out in the sixth, the Sox clinging to a 6-4 lead.

Lackey put the leadoff man on base in five of the six innings he pitched, battled his strike-zone command and overall control all game (3 walks and a hit batsman) and left after an RBI single by Yunel Escobar with one out in the sixth. His best pitch of the night had come with two on, two runs in and two out in the fifth, when he busted an inside fastball to Ben Zobrist to end the fifth. This was Lackey's shortest outing since he lasted 4 1/3 innings in the Trop on May 14, the game in which first baseman Mike Napoli lost a popup in the roof.

Ell's bells: Jacoby Ellsbury, whose availability for the playoffs had been in question when he fractured a bone in his right foot last month, singled in the first, doubled in the third and singled in the fifth, scoring all three times. That gave him five straight hits, the Sox center fielder having singled in each of his last two at-bats in Game 1.

Ellsbury, who stole his second base of the series in the first inning, was the beneficiary of some good ball placement. He flared his first hit, a single to right, and his double in the third didn't clear the infield in the air, as he fisted a ball over third baseman Evan Longoria that landed just inside the line.

W2W4: ALDS Game 2 -- Red Sox vs. Rays

October, 4, 2013
• When and where: Fenway Park, Saturday at 5:37 p.m. ET

• Starting pitchers: David Price (10-8, 3.33 ERA) vs. John Lackey (10-13, 3.52 ERA)

• Scouting report on Price: Price's career postseason line against Boston looks like the results of a dominant start: no hits, no runs, few walks and more strikeouts than innings pitched. Except there's one problem: The 2012 Cy Young Award winner has never made a postseason start against the Red Sox.

Used exclusively as a reliever in the 2008 postseason, his first season in the majors, Price made a name for himself by shutting the Red Sox down in the American League Championship Series. He made three appearances, including a Game 7 save to send the Rays to their first World Series.

However, Price knows he'll need to pitch his best to quiet a Red Sox offense that scored 12 runs Friday.

"You know what they're capable of doing," Price said. "If you come with your B-game, B-plus-game, you have a pretty good chance to lose."

In 20 career regular-season starts against the Red Sox, Price has a 10-6 record (2-2 this season) with a 2.93 ERA. The 28-year-old threw 118 pitches in Monday's complete-game victory against the Texas Rangers to clinch the second wild card.

• Scouting report on Lackey: In his eight seasons with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, John Lackey made 12 postseason starts (14 appearances), going 3-4 with a 3.12 ERA. Saturday will mark Lackey's first postseason appearance in his fourth season with the Red Sox.

"I'm excited about it, it's been a few years since I've been in the postseason," Lackey said. "This time of the year is what we're all here for."

Known as a ferocious competitor, Lackey battled back this season from the Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss all of 2012. The 34-year-old put together his best year since 2007 and earned the second spot in Boston's postseason rotation.

"When people look at John Lackey, the way he's performed this year, you can't not acknowledge the work that he put in in the offseason," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He's been, probably, one of our top two starters in terms of consistency, start to finish."

Lackey's numbers at home this season (6-3, 2.47 ERA) have been much better compared to his numbers on the road (4-10, 4.48). In two previous playoff starts at Fenway with the Angels (Game 1 of the 2007 ALDS, Game 4 of the 2008 ALDS) Lackey went a combined 13 innings, allowing six runs on 13 hits.

Three Rays players to watch

Ben Zobrist, 2B: Zobrist has hit Lackey well in his career, going 11-for-27 and walking five times. His .515 on-base percentage against Lackey is the second highest among batters with 30 or more plate appearances against the veteran righty.

Yunel Escobar, SS: Tampa's other middle infielder has also done damage against Lackey, getting eight hits in just 15 at-bats. This year marks the 30-year-old's first taste of postseason baseball (1-for-7 in two games so far).

David DeJesus, LF: Facing a right-hander in Cleveland on Wednesday, DeJesus hit leadoff for Tampa, but he didn't start Friday against left-hander Jon Lester. With 27 plate appearances (six hits) against Lackey in his career, DeJesus could be counted upon to spark a Rays offense that was held to four hits in their Game 1 loss.

Three Red Sox players to watch

Mike Napoli, 1B: Napoli has had marginal success in his career against Price with seven hits in 27 at-bats, but he has struck out 15 times against the left-hander, his highest total versus any pitcher he has faced.

Stephen Drew, SS: Saturday may serve as an optimal chance for Farrell to let Xander Bogaerts play as Drew has gone hitless with five strikeouts in 10 career at-bats against Price, all of which came this season. Meanwhile, Bogaerts has never faced Price.

Jonny Gomes, LF: The heart and soul of the Red Sox clubhouse this season, Gomes got things going in Game 1 with a two-run double in the fourth that tied the score at 2-2. Two batters later, Gomes roared around to score from second base on Drew's infield single. Even though Gomes has hit only .200 (4-for-20) off Price in his career, his intensity can be game-changing in the postseason.

Three key considerations

Expect Red Sox catcher David Ross to crack the lineup for Game 2 as Farrell said Thursday he expects to get Ross involved early in the series. Ross has two hits off Price in five at-bats, both hits being solo home runs.

Despite his success this season, Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava may need to wait until Game 3 to make his first postseason start. With another lefty on the mound Saturday, Gomes should draw the start in left.

Rays reliever Jamey Wright threw 30 pitches in his one inning of work Friday, making him an unlikely candidate for manager Joe Maddon to use in Game 2.

W2W4: ALDS Game 1 -- Red Sox vs. Rays

October, 3, 2013
• When and where: Fenway Park, Friday at 3:07 p.m. ET

• Starting pitchers: Matt Moore (17-4, 3.29 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75 ERA)

• Scouting report on Moore: Despite Moore being just 24 years old, he’s pitched on this stage before. With just one start under his belt at the major league level, manager Joe Maddon handed the ball to Moore for Game 1 of the 2011 ALDS against the Texas Rangers.

The result? Seven innings pitched with just two hits allowed against the best hitting team in the majors that year.

This time around though, things are different. Moore has two full seasons under his belt, an All-Star selection this year and his first career complete game shutout out of the way. That shutout came against the Red Sox on July 22 at Fenway Park.

Recent history, however, has proven less glamorous for Moore. After suffering an elbow injury that kept him on the shelf for just over a month shortly following his Fenway shutout, Moore returned on Sept. 3 in time to start six more regular season games. The results were mixed: He maintained a low ERA of 2.79 but walked 20 batters in 29 innings, tied with the Rangers' Yu Darvish for the most in that span.

Among AL left-handed starters, Moore ranked second in walks with 76 in 150 1/3 innings pitched (the leader, Angels starter C.J. Wilson, had only nine more walks in 212 1/3 innings pitched).

• Scouting report on Lester: Much like Moore, Lester is certainly no stranger to pitching in October. He started Game 1 of the 2008 and 2009 ALDS against the Angels, splitting the decisions while allowing a combined three earned runs in 13 innings pitched. Overall, the 29-year-old left-hander has gone 2-3 in postseason play with an ERA of 2.57.

This season, Lester made a full turnaround from his 2012 pitching woes, throwing a career-high 213 1/3 innings while lowering his ERA from last season more than a full run (4.82 to 3.75). In five September starts, Lester put together his strongest month with a 3-0 record and only 10 runs allowed in 35 innings.

Of Lester’s six career postseason starts, his worst came in Game 3 of the 2008 ALCS against the Rays. He allowed four earned runs and two home runs in 5 2/3 innings pitched.

Three Rays players to watch

Wil Myers, RF: The rookie went 2 for 3 with a home run and a double in his only career start against Lester (July 23).

Evan Longoria, 3B: Longoria hit .500 (4-for-8) combined in the Rays' two play-in games this week and paced Tampa Bay with 32 home runs this season. However, Longoria is a career .196 hitter in the playoffs. In 63 career appearances against Lester, Longoria is hitting .236 with four homers and four doubles.

Delmon Young, DH: Young has hit nine home runs in just 29 postseason games, including a solo shot Wednesday night off Cleveland Indians pitcher Danny Salazar. He’s hitting just .194 against Lester for his career (36 plate appearances).

Three Red Sox players to watch

David Ortiz, DH: Ortiz is a career .283 hitter in the postseason with 12 home runs. However, he has hit just .164 in his past two postseason trips combined (2008-09). He has six hits in 13 career at bats against Moore.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B: Of his five career postseason home runs, three came in the 2008 ALCS against Tampa. He has a team-high 14 at bats against Moore, but has just two hits to show for it.

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF: Boston’s speedy leadoff man, Ellsbury has gone 0 for 6 in his career against Moore. His 92.9 percent (52-of-56) stolen base success rate this season compares favorably to the Rays' 78.3 percent (86-of-119).

Farrell weighing lineup decisions

October, 3, 2013
BOSTON -- The Red Sox will not announce their American League Division Series roster until Friday morning, when it is due. However, manager John Farrell did take the opportunity Thursday at Fenway Park to give some hints as to what his lineups will look like in the first two games Friday and Saturday.

With left-handers Matt Moore and David Price set to start for the Tampa Bay Rays, many decisions have already been made.

“Yeah, I think obviously Jonny Gomes will be in left field,” Farrell said. “We’ll do some things behind the plate probably to split the two games up, and David Ross’ involvement will certainly be in one of these first two games.”

Farrell was asked which factors would dictate when Ross is behind the plate, either in Game 1 working with Jon Lester or in Game 2 with John Lackey.

“He’s worked well with both guys,” Farrell said. “So there’s going to be a few things that come into play; who he’s catching, who he’s facing, and how that matchup might best serve us as a team.”

That’s where the numbers become significant. Lester threw 22 times to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, posting a 3.58 ERA and a 3.41 strikeout-to-walk ratio (116/34) while limiting opponents to a .671 OPS. In 11 games with Ross behind the plate those numbers shift to a 4.11 ERA, a 1.85 strikeout-to-walk ratio (61/33) and a .770 OPS.

Lackey had similar discrepancies going the other direction, although he pitched to Ross in only two games, posting a 2.38 ERA and 16 strikeouts against two walks. In 22 games paired with Saltalamacchia, Lackey had a 3.06 mark and a 3.90 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Lackey also worked with Ryan Lavarnway five times.

Those numbers would suggest a Lester-Saltalamacchia battery on Friday and a Lackey-Ross pairing on Saturday. If that’s not enough, it is worth noting that Ross is 2-for-5 (with both hits home runs) against Price, while Saltalamacchia is just 1-for-14 with five strikeouts against the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner.

The two have just one at-bat against Moore between them, so that is not a factor.

Schilling expects pitching-dominated series

October, 3, 2013

Our Baseball Tonight crew -- Curt Schilling, John Kruk and Barry Larkin – look ahead to the ALDS between the Red Sox and Rays, which kicks off Friday afternoon at Fenway Park.

What does Schilling expect from the series? In a word, “Pitching.”

“A five-game series, I expect solid pitching on both sides,” says Schilling in the video above. “Look at the starting pitchers’ ERA [3.44 ERA for Rays and 3.17 ERA for Red Sox]. Not surprising and I think it’ll be lower in this series.

“I believe both of these offenses can be game-planned and pitched to. And you clearly have two rotations and two bullpens that can execute game plans.”

Rays' run comparable to '99 Pedro

July, 29, 2013

The folks at ESPN Stats & Information came up with an interesting comparison over the weekend, matching up the Rays' starting staff through a 24-game stretch that ended Saturday with Pedro Martinez's Cy Young season in 1999 (graphic above).

Rays lefty David Price, who held the Red Sox to one run in a complete-game five-hitter last week, will pitch at Fenway tonight looking to help the Rays leapfrog the Sox into first place in the AL East.

Felix Doubront will start for the Red Sox. Over his past seven starts, Doubront is 3-1 with a 2.15 ERA.

Rays have some fun with Ortiz

July, 29, 2013
In a good-natured jab at David Ortiz, who smashed the phone in a Baltimore dugout after being ejected Saturday night, the Rays on Sunday morning tweeted the following:

The Red Sox, of course, next visit Tampa on Sept. 10.

The Sox and Rays face off tonight at Fenway with first place in the AL East on the line.

Rays-Sox rained out; Monday makeup

July, 25, 2013
BOSTON -- Rain assured no changing of the guard at the top of the American League East standings. The Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays were washed out Thursday, with the game rescheduled for 6:10 p.m. ET Monday, an off day for both teams.

The Sox will be returning home from a weekend series against the Orioles, while the Rays were supposed to go home from New York but will make a one-night detour after their series with the Yankees.

The rainout means that Boston maintained its half-game lead over the Rays, who had won two out of three against the Sox this week after losing nine of 12 head-to-head meetings earlier this season. Matt Moore and David Price threw complete-game victories against the Sox, becoming the first lefties to record complete-game wins in the same series in Boston since Vida Blue and Darold Knowles of Oakland did so 40 years ago, Aug. 14-16, 1973.

Sox manager John Farrell made a slight alteration in the team's rotation, with Brandon Workman pulled out of his scheduled start Saturday and rescheduled for Tuesday. John Lackey, who was to have pitched Thursday night, will open the Orioles series, with Ryan Dempster going Saturday and Jon Lester on Sunday.

Felix Doubront, who lost to Price on Wednesday, will pitch Monday, with Workman scheduled to face the Seattle Mariners here Tuesday. The reshuffling, Farrell said, makes Workman available out of the pen for the next couple of nights.

The rainout sets up the near-certainty that Price, who needed just 97 pitches to beat the Sox on Wednesday, will get another shot at the Sox on Monday. Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters he was holding off on that decision, but Roberto Hernandez should make plans to be pushed back in the rotation.

Sox can't match Rays' Price

July, 25, 2013

BOSTON -- David Price offered a scary thought Wednesday night: Since returning from a triceps strain that sidelined him for 47 days, he might be pitching better than he did last season.

All he did last season was win 20 games, lead the American League with a 2.56 ERA and win the Cy Young Award.

Better than that?

"Absolutely," the 27-year-old left-hander said after needing just 97 pitches to dispose of the Red Sox 5-1 Wednesday night, drawing the Rays to within a half-game of the first-place Sox in the AL East.

[+] EnlargeDavid Price
Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsDavid Price won the Cy Young Award last season, but thinks he's pitching even better this year.
"Last year I felt like I had complete control of two pitches," Price explained. "Right now I honestly feel like I have four pitches I can throw at any time, and they've definitely gotten better."

Since returning from the disabled list July 2, Price has won four of his five starts, three of which have been complete games of fewer than 100 pitches.

"It's just hard to imagine a guy pitching better than he is right now," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "I don't think I've seen it regarding quality of pitches, stuff, location, good-hitting ballclub. He's been on top of his game -- that's an understatement."

The Rays have been on top of their game, as well, going a major league-best 17-3 in July. They've taken two of three from the Sox here after losing nine of their first 12 meetings this season.

"We're playing good baseball and that's the thing I'm most pleased with," Maddon said. "Regardless of what it says on the other jersey, we're playing well."

It isn't just Price. Second-year starter Matt Moore, fresh off a two-hit shutout of the Sox on Monday night, has turned in a Cy Young-caliber season of his own so far, going 14-3 with a 3.17 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innings. Meanwhile, the team's pitching as a whole has combined to post a tidy 2.31 ERA this month, also tops in the majors.

"We've got a good groove, however long it's been, and it's been fun," Price said. "We feel like we have five guys that can go out there and win at any time."

Teammates concur.

"Price is pitching unbelievable right now, but you've got to give credit to Moore, [Jeremy] Hellickson, [Chris] Archer. They're all pitching really well," Cuban-born shortstop Yunel Escobar said through an interpreter.

The pitching hasn't been alone in carrying this Tampa team within reach of the top. The defense has been stellar, with Escobar making what Maddon called the team's best defensive play of the year in the fourth inning, a behind-the-back throw with his glove to second baseman Ben Zobrist to turn a flashy double play.

Escobar played for Red Sox manager John Farrell in Toronto the past two seasons.

"It's definitely one of the better plays I've ever made," Escobar said. "To help us win, playing Boston, was a great feeling."

The Sox have held first place in the division since May 27. The Rays hope to end that run Thursday night in the series finale.

"It's always nice to be in first place," Maddon said. "It would be significant regarding how we've been able to do something like that. But again, it's about [Thursday's game]."

W2W4: Red Sox-Rays preview

July, 24, 2013

The Red Sox face the Rays tonight (7:10 p.m., on ESPN and except in the Boston area) in what will be a battle of two hot lefties in David Price and Felix Doubront. Here are 10 things to know about tonight’s matchup:

1. Since returning from the DL on July 2, the Rays’ Price has rattled off a 3-1 record with a 1.97 ERA. He has walked just one batter in 32 innings.

2. Doubront is enjoying a solid run himself, posting a 1.83 ERA in his last six starts with wins in each of his last three starts. He is the first Red Sox pitcher to go 12 straight starts giving up three earned runs or fewer since Pedro Martinez went 16 straight ending in April 2003.

3. Doubront is 2-1 with a 3.05 ERA in nine career appearances (six starts) against the Rays. This will be his third start against Tampa Bay this season. He last faced the Rays on June 18, tossing eight scoreless innings with three hits and zero walks. Only two of his nine career appearances against the Rays have come at Fenway Park.

4. Price is 8-5 in 17 career starts against the Red Sox with a 3.27 ERA, but he’s been even better at Fenway, going 4-1 with a 2.13 ERA in eight starts. He has the lowest ERA as a visitor of any active pitcher with at least five starts at Fenway Park.

5. One of the biggest changes for Price since returning from the DL has been an increased use of his changeup. In April and May, he threw the pitch only 13 percent of the time. In his last four starts, he has used it on 21 percent of pitches. Why the increase? It has been by far his most effective pitch this year, with opponents batting .180 in at-bats ending with the pitch. They’re batting .291 against all other pitches.

6. Unlike Price, Doubront is willing to throw his changeup to righties and lefties. It’s been his best swing-and-miss pitch this season (24 percent misses), and he’s recorded 72 outs with the pitch, most among his secondary pitches.

7. Despite losing Tuesday night, the Rays are still one of the hottest teams in baseball, having won 21 of their last 26 games since June 23. The team has posted an MLB-best 2.26 ERA in that stretch. The Rays' 21-4 stretch before last night’s loss was their best 25-game stretch in franchise history.

8. The Rays offense started off cold, batting .204 over a 4-9 start to the season. Since then, the offense has not looked back. In July, the Rays lead the American League with a .278 batting average.

9. The Rays are 4-10 against the Red Sox this season (20-15 versus rest of the AL East) and have lost the season series for the first time since 2007.

10. Boston is 21-7 in its last 28 home games. The team hasn’t lost any of its last nine completed home series.

How Moore dominated the Red Sox

July, 23, 2013
Moore turned in his best gem in a strong stretch of starts as the Rays won their sixth straight and earned their 14th win in their past 15 games, 3-0 over the Boston Red Sox on Monday night.

The Rays are now within a half-game of the AL East lead, which the Red Sox have had since May 25.

Let's take a look at a statistical summary of his performance.

* Rare gem from a lefty in Boston: Visiting lefty starters don’t often throw a shutout in which they allow two hits or fewer and one walk or fewer at Fenway Park.

Moore’s was the first such shutout by a visiting lefty in 25 years. The last was by Jimmy Key for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1988.

In fact, there have been two shutouts this season at Fenway Park in which a pitcher allowed two hits or fewer and no more than one walk. Jon Lester had the other against the Blue Jays on May 10.

There were no other southpaw shutouts of this nature either for or against the Red Sox in their home ballpark in between Key’s and Lester's.

* How Moore won: Moore is a pitcher who usually gets a lot of swings-and-misses when he is successful. But that wasn’t necessary on Monday night.

Moore threw 74 of 109 pitches for strikes, a 68 percent strike rate that was his second highest this season.

But Moore got those strikes in a different manner than usual. He got 27 called strikes on the 62 pitches the Red Sox took, a 44 percent success rate. Moore’s typical success rate is 30 percent, which would have netted him eight fewer strikes than he got.

Moore dominated off his fastball, which he threw for a strike nearly three quarters of the time. He only got two swings-and-misses with it, but the pitch netted him 17 outs -- seven groundouts (including a double play), eight fly ball outs, and a line drive out.

Moore threw 21 changeups, with 16 dropping to the lower-third of the strike zone or below the knees, and that pitch netted him seven outs, including three of his four strikeouts, without yielding a baserunner.

* What’s made Moore so good?: The Moore who has won his past six starts, with an ERA of 1.50 in that span, is a different pitcher from the Moore who started the season 8-0, then ran into some struggles.

That version of Moore was outpitching his peripheral stats -- a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2-to-1 and a rate of one homer allowed every eight innings.

Moore has basically eliminated the home run, allowing one in 68 1/3 innings in his past 12 starts.

His past four starts have been gems. In them, he’s pitched to an 0.91 ERA, with 29 strikeouts and eight walks in 29 1/3 innings.

Moore has limited not just the home run, but solid contact. His line-drive rate in those four starts is a mere 13 percent, down five percentage points from what it was the rest of this season.