The Red Sox hope to take advantage of the slumping Devil Rays and extend their AL East lead when the teams open a three-game series Friday night at Tropicana Field.
The Red Sox (62-40) have won six of their last seven games and have outscored their opponents 50-22 during that run, which comes after an 8-13 slump. Boston still holds a 7 1/2-game lead over the Yankees in the East, but New York has won 11 of 14 and trailed by 12 games on July 5.
The Red Sox took three of four in Cleveland coming into this series, including Thursday’s 14-9 win. Manny Ramirez hit two homers, including one that was measured as the third-longest in Jacobs Field history, and Wily Mo Pena added a three-run homer and four RBIs.
Ramirez, who hit just 11 homers in the first half of the season, is batting .368 with six homers and 21 RBIs in July. The multihomer game was the 49th of his career, tying Hall of Famers Mel Ott and Eddie Mathews for 12th on the career list.
The Devil Rays (38-63), meanwhile, have dropped six straight and are coming off a three-game sweep in Baltimore. They lost 10-7 in Thursday’s finale and have been outscored 64-20 during the slide.
The Red Sox outscored the Devil Rays 26-10 in a three-game sweep at Fenway Park July 3-5, in the teams’ only previous series this season. However, Tampa Bay has won eight of its last 11 home games against Boston.
“You know their track record against us,” left fielder Carl Crawford told the Devil Rays’ official team Web site. “You know what they’re trying to accomplish this year. So it’s going to be tough. We’ve got to strap it up and try to find a way to get the intensity level back up.”
Tampa Bay will try to bounce back against Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (11-9, 4.74 ERA), who is the first American League pitcher to start the season with 20 straight decisions since Kansas City’s Bret Saberhagen in 1987. He won for the fourth time in five starts on Sunday, allowing four runs in 6 1-3 innings of an 8-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox in his 500th career appearance.
“I’ve been blessed to be able to wear this uniform for as long as I have, and to be able to get in that many games,” Wakefield, who has pitched for Boston since 1995, told the Red Sox’s official Web site. “It’s pretty special for me.”
Wakefield has gone at least six innings in each of his last five starts. He is 16-2 with a 3.01 ERA in 33 career appearances, including 23 starts, against Tampa Bay for his most wins against any opponent.
Wakefield allowed four runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 7-5 win over the Devil Rays on July 4 in his only start against them this season.
Tampa Bay will counter with Jason Hammel (1-0, 5.82), who is making his second start of the season and the 11th of his career. He gave up two runs in four innings without getting a decision on Saturday in the first game of a doubleheader, a 7-3 Devil Rays loss to the Yankees.
Hammel, who has also made 10 appearances out of the bullpen this season, was sent back to Triple-A Durham after the outing so that he could continue to start, but was recalled on Monday when Jay Witasick went on the disabled list and J.P. Howell was demoted to the minors.
Hammel started against the Red Sox on Sept. 26 last season, allowing five runs in four innings of a 5-1 loss at Fenway Park. He has faced them twice out of the bullpen this year, allowing two runs in two innings without getting a decision, and will be on a 90-pitch limit in this outing.