The Rays hope that continues as they try to further increase their surprising lead in the AL East with a sixth consecutive home victory against the Red Sox on Tuesday night.
Owner of the best record in the majors, Tampa Bay (50-32) opened a 1 1/2-game lead over Boston after winning 5-4 in Monday’s series opener. It was the first meeting between the clubs since their bench-clearing brawl at Fenway Park on June 5.
The Rays improved to 4-0 against Boston (50-35) at Tropicana Field this season as the home team has won all 10 games in the series.
“This is an intense series,” Boston’s Mike Lowell said. “I know there’s a little history, but I think both teams played good baseball.”
While the Red Sox still own a 6-4 advantage in the series after winning six straight over the Rays prior to Monday’s contest, Tampa Bay is 15-7 overall since being at swept at Fenway from June 3-5.
Boston, meanwhile, has lost three in a row after winning the opener of their 10-game road trip Friday at Houston. The Red Sox had been in first place for 25 consecutive days before Sunday’s loss dropped them behind the Rays.
“It’s no fluke. They’re a talented group,” Lowell said of the Rays. “You’ve got to respect that.”
Evan Longoria, the AL’s player of the week after batting .433 with three homers and 10 RBIs, went 0-for-3 Monday. The rookie third baseman is 7-for-33 with a homer and 10 strikeouts against Boston this season.
It’s uncertain if Tampa Bay closer Troy Percival will be available since he left Monday’s game in the ninth after tweaking a sore hamstring that put him on the disabled list earlier this month. The 38-year-old has 19 saves in 21 chances this season.
The Rays hope Tuesday starter Matt Garza (6-4, 3.76 ERA) can come close to repeating his last start, a one-hitter in a 6-1 win at Florida on Thursday.
The right-hander - 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA at home this season - is 2-1 with a 4.71 ERA in four career starts versus Boston. He is 0-1 with a 6.97 ERA in two 2007 outings, and allowed five earned runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 7-4 loss at Fenway on June 3.
Boston counters with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (5-5, 3.88), who allowed two hits through seven innings in a 5-0 win over Arizona on Wednesday. He is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts.
“I’ve really felt comfortable,” Wakefield told the Red Sox’s official Web site. “(Pitching coach) John Farrell and I worked on my mechanics and figured something out, and it seems to be working.”
The right-hander is 17-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 29 starts versus Tampa Bay. He allowed three earned runs in six innings of a 5-4, 11-inning loss to the Rays on April 25.
Lowell went 3-for-4 with an RBI and J.D Drew hit his 12th home run in June on Monday for Boston, which fell to 19-25 on the road. Lowell is batting .531 (17-for-32) with nine RBIs in his last eight games.