The Boston Red Sox have received outstanding starting pitching in this series, and have no reason to believe that won’t continue Wednesday.
This three-game set began Monday with Tim Wakefield taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning to lead Boston to a 3-0 victory. Wakefield went eight innings and allowed two hits, the same number Jon Lester surrendered in seven innings on Tuesday before the Red Sox (72-47) rallied in the ninth to win 2-1.
If Matsuzaka (13-8, 3.59 ERA) keeps performing as he has over the past few weeks, Boston should have a good shot at sweeping a series for the first time since a three-game set against Tampa Bay at Fenway from July 3-5.
Matsuzaka is 2-1 with a 1.65 ERA with 28 strikeouts over 27 1-3 innings over his last four starts. His only loss in that span came at Tampa Bay on July 29, though the right-hander held the Devil Rays to two runs in 6 1-3 innings and struck out six in a 5-2 defeat.
When he faced them at Fenway on July 3, Matsuzaka yielded four hits in eight scoreless innings and had nine strikeouts in a 4-1 victory.
Boston’s bullpen cost him a win at Baltimore on Friday as he allowed one run and four hits in seven innings of a 6-5 defeat. Matsuzaka struck out seven to push his season total to 159, breaking Ken Brett’s rookie club record (155 in 1970).
Reliever Eric Gagne recorded only one out and gave up four runs in that game as part of an awful first two weeks in a Red Sox uniform. However, the former NL Cy Young Award winner posted his first win since joining Boston by striking out the side in a scoreless ninth Tuesday.
“I know how to get people out,” said Gagne, who entered the game with a 15.75 ERA in five appearances for Boston. “I’ve done it before, so it’s nothing new. I’ve just got to go out there and relax.”
Mike Lowell’s game-tying homer in the ninth Tuesday was the Red Sox’s first home run in five games. Coco Crisp singled home Jason Varitek with the winning run, pushing Boston’s lead to five games over the second-place New York Yankees in the AL East.
The Red Sox had been held scoreless through the first eight innings, but six of those came against Tampa Bay ace Scott Kazmir. They don’t face nearly as daunting a task Wednesday going against Andy Sonnanstine (1-8, 6.35).
The rookie right-hander has lost eight straight decisions - a span of 11 starts - since getting his first major league victory at Florida on June 10. He has been particularly bad in losing his two starts this month, allowing 12 runs and 15 hits in eight innings.
Manager Joe Maddon pointed out after Sonnanstine’s last start - a 7-4 loss at Texas on Friday - that the rookie is getting into trouble when letting his off-speed pitches float over the heart of the plate.
“He’s got to get them in better locations,” Maddon said. “He’s getting hurt a lot more with the soft one than the hard one.”
Opposing batters are hitting .301 against Sonnanstine, who is facing Boston for the first time.
Facing a struggling right-hander may help get David Ortiz on track. After going 0-for-3 on Tuesday - two of those at-bats were against the left-handed Kazmir - Ortiz is batting .272 against lefties and .336 against righties. He has four hits in his last 28 at-bats (.143) and hasn’t homered in nine straight games, driving in only four runs.
The Devil Rays (45-74) have been limited to two runs and 14 hits over their last three games. They are closing a 10-game road trip, having gone 3-6 to remain owners of baseball’s worst record.
Pena is in a 1-for-19 slump, and leadoff man Akinori Iwamura is hitless in his last 14 at-bats.
Tampa Bay has won only once in eight games against Boston this season.