Boston looks to finish its season series against the Devil Rays with a three-game sweep when the teams meet Sunday at Tropicana Field.
The Red Sox (92-63) had lost four straight and five of six entering this series, but bounced back to defeat Tampa Bay 8-1 on Friday night and 8-6 on Saturday. With Detroit’s loss to Kansas City on Saturday night, Boston assured itself of at least the AL wild card and its fourth postseason appearance in five years.
“We are right where we want to be right now, making the playoffs,” said Boston shortstop and former Devil Ray Julio Lugo, whose two-run homer off closer Al Reyes in the top of the ninth inning Saturday provided the winning margin. “I felt like (Boston DH) David Ortiz going around the bases. It’s nice to be able to do something to win and make sure we made the playoffs.”
After a dominant first half of the season, the Red Sox have hung on before clinching largely due to their domination of Tampa Bay (63-92). The AL East rivals have played each other 17 times since the start of July, with Boston winning 13. The Red Sox are a pedestrian 30-29 since July 1 versus all other opponents, and their AL East lead over the New York Yankees - once as large as 14 1/2 games - has slipped to 2 1/2 games with seven to play for Boston and eight contests remaining for New York.
Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield (16-11, 4.73 ERA) also has dominated the Devil Rays. The 41-year-old knuckleballer is 19-2 with a 3.01 ERA in 37 career games - 27 starts - versus Tampa Bay, the most wins for any pitcher against the franchise which began play in 1998.
Wakefield has been even better at Tropicana Field, with a 9-0 record and 2.16 ERA there in 19 appearances, including 13 starts.
However, Wakefield has not been the same pitcher since having his turn skipped late last month due to back problems. In three September starts - including a Sept. 11 home outing versus the Rays in which he gave up seven runs in three innings but did not record a decision - Wakefield is 0-1 with a 12.08 ERA and a .419 opponent batting average.
On Monday at Toronto, he allowed four runs over six innings and got charged with Boston’s 6-1 defeat.
Tampa Bay starter Edwin Jackson (4-15, 5.99) has only two quality starts in his last six outings, but both came against Boston. The right-hander limited the Red Sox to one run over six innings of a 2-1 home victory on Aug. 22, then allowed three runs in six innings at Fenway Park on Sept. 12, but did not record a decision as Tampa Bay lost 5-4.
For his career, Jackson is 1-1 with a 5.48 ERA in six appearances - three starts - versus Boston.
Jackson didn’t fare well Monday at Los Angeles, giving up seven runs - four earned - and a career-high 14 hits in 4 2-3 innings of a 10-7 loss to the Angels.
Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena, who played 18 games with Boston last season, homered twice and had four RBIs on Saturday to give him 42 home runs this season, second in the AL to Alex Rodriguez’s 52.
“Believe me, all of us here, we’re hurting,” Pena said. “Obviously, we wanted to come out with that win. We have pride.”
Pena has struggled against Wakefield, going 4-for-24 (.167) with three strikeouts.
Saturday’s defeat was the fifth in a row for the Rays - their longest skid since dropping eight in a row July 21-28.