The Tampa Bay Rays can take comfort in knowing they will leave Boston as the leaders in the AL East.
How much of an advantage could depend on how well they fare against Boston’s Josh Beckett as the division front-runners meet in the deciding game of their three-game set Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
After blowing a one-run lead in the eighth inning, Tampa Bay (86-57) scored twice in the ninth off Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon to even the key series with a 5-4 victory Tuesday night. The win increased the Rays’ lead in the East back to 1 1/2 games after the Red Sox (85-59) got within one-half of the lead with a 3-0 win Monday.
“It’s a pretty significant win, particularly here, what’s been going on (and) where we’re at in the race,” said Tampa manager Joe Maddon, whose team is 1-7 at Fenway this season.
While the victory snapped a four-game losing streak for Tampa Bay, it also marked the first time the road team has won a game in this season series that’s tied at 7-all. The two teams, likely headed to playoffs regardless who wins the division, meet for a final series starting Monday in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Boston, which leads the wild-card race by six games over Minnesota, had won six of seven prior to Tuesday’s loss.
“If it comes down to them winning the home field by one game, maybe we’ll look back at this game,” said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who homered Tuesday. “But we’ll see.”
After Jason Bay’s two-run homer gave Boston a 4-3 lead in the eighth, pinch-hitter Dan Johnson—recalled from the minors earlier in the day—homered to tie game in the ninth. All-Star Dioner Navarro doubled home the lead run later in the inning for the Rays, who are 2-6 since winning five in a row to close August.
Bay is hitting .314 with seven homers and 33 RBIs in 34 games since being traded from Pittsburgh.
Navarro, meanwhile, is batting .423 (11-for-26) in his last six games, but will try to improve on his .143 (2-for-14) average against Beckett.
Beckett (12-9, 4.20 ERA) allowed four hits while striking out seven in five scoreless innings of an 8-1 victory at Texas on Friday in his first start since Aug. 17 prior to landing on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation.
“I came out of the game healthy. That’s what we were looking for,” Beckett said. “It’s definitely a nice stepping stone and easier to go out the next start and not worry about it.”
The right-hander is 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA versus Tampa Bay this season, with both wins coming at Fenway. He is 5-3 with a 3.59 ERA lifetime against the Rays.
Tampa Bay counters with Andy Sonnanstine (13-7, 4.66), who failed to hold an early two-run lead and allowed four runs with five hits in six innings of a 6-4 loss to Roy Halladay and Toronto on Friday.
“Coming out of the gates with those two runs, they’re precious,” Sonnanstine said. “I’m kind of disappointed that I didn’t go back out there and put another zero up.”
The right-hander is 1-1 with an 8.85 ERA in four starts versus Boston, none of which have come this season.