Boston (85-58) won 3-0 in Monday’s opener to improve to 7-0 this season over Tampa Bay at Fenway while moving within one-half game of the Rays, who have been shut in two straight games while losing four in a row and six of seven.
The Red Sox, who have won nine straight over Tampa (85-57) at home, haven’t led the division since July 17, when it owned a one-half game advantage over Tampa Bay—owners of a 5 1/2-game advantage on Aug. 31. The Red Sox also own a seven-game lead in the wild-card race.
“Whether we’ve closed the gap or not, just the way we’ve been playing, trying to distance ourselves in the wild card and still ultimately win the East is important,” Boston’s Jason Bay said. “Once you get that ball rolling it’s a little bit easier to keep it rolling.”
Bay is hitting .313 with six homers and 31 RBIs in 33 games since being traded from Pittsburgh. Crisp, meanwhile, extended his hitting streak to 10 games while batting . 553 (21-for-38) in that stretch.
Looking for his sixth consecutive win, Matsuzaka (16-2, 2.88 ERA) tries to continue his dominance at Fenway, where he is 9-2 in 14 starts.
Though he didn’t earn a decision Wednesday, Matsuzaka wasn’t completely sharp, allowing three earned runs with four hits and four walks in six innings of a 5-4 win over Baltimore at home.
The right-hander is 1-3 with a 3.79 ERA in six starts against Tampa Bay and allowed one run while walking five in failing to factor in the decision of a 7-6 loss at Tampa on July 2.
Kazmir (11-6, 2.99) could be the key to the Rays ending their skid as he tries for a fourth straight win.
“I really look forward to games like this,” Kazmir told the Rays’ official Web site. “I like challenges. I like going into someone else’s park, like Fenway. It really gives you that adrenalin.”
The left-hander allowed one hit in six scoreless innings of a 7-5 victory over the New York Yankees on Thursday and is 6-6 with a 3.02 ERA in 10 starts versus Boston. Kazmir, though, is 1-3 with a 3.49 over his last five starts at Fenway.
Jason Bartlett had two of the seven hits Monday for Tampa Bay, which has never been shut out in three straight contests. The Rays have scored eight runs in going 0-4 on their nine-game road trip that concludes this weekend against the Yankees.
“We’ve just run into a little bit of a snag hitting-wise and when you don’t hit, all of a sudden everybody wants to magnify the negativity about it,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Though rookie All-Star Evan Longoria was activated from the disabled list Saturday after suffering a wrist injury, he has yet to play. Madden, though, said he could see action this week for Tampa Bay, which is batting .228 while being outscored 48-16 at Fenway in 2008.