Now that the Boston has finally won at Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field this season, the Red Sox can focus on trying to take over the outright lead in the AL East when the teams continue their pivotal three-game series Tuesday night.
Paced by six home runs, Boston (89-61) beat the division-leading Rays 13-5 on Monday, improving the Red Sox to 1-6 this season at Tropicana. More importantly for Boston, it moved within percentage points (.002) of Tampa Bay (88-60), which was 5 1/2 games up on the Red Sox on Aug. 31.
Tampa Bay is 4-9 this month, while Boston has won three in a row and 10 of 14 in September. The Red Sox, who lead the wild-card race by seven games, haven’t led the division since holding a one-half game advantage at the All-Star break.
“We want to finish first,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “That’s what you set out to do.”
A three-run homer by David Ortiz (four RBIs) highlighted a four-run first inning in Boston’s offensive barrage that featured home runs by Kevin Youkilis (four RBIs), Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, Jason Bay and Jacoby Ellsbury.
“It was an amazing game offensively for us,” Boston reliever Mike Timlin said of the Red Sox, who totaled 16 runs in their previous six games at Tropicana Field. “We’ve been working hard to get (to first place) and the Rays have been working hard to keep us from here. It just shows the perseverance of this team.”
Tampa Bay, which has lost three in a row and nine of 13, allowed 10 or more runs for the first time since losing 13-2 at Cleveland on July 10.
“That was just a good old-fashioned whippin’ tonight,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said of the opener. “Believe it or not, this is an easier loss to accept. When you lose 2-1 or 3-2 on one play … those are the ones you go home and kind of beat yourself up after.”
Youkilis, hitting .312 on the season, has eight RBIs over his last seven games to extend his career high to 105. He’s driven in seven of his 13 RBIs against Tampa Bay this season in their last five meetings.
Akinori Iwamura, Dan Johnson and Justin Ruggiano each homered Monday for the Rays, who have been outscored 27-14 over their last three games. Johnson, a recent minor-league call up, has homered twice for both his hits against Boston this season.
Tuesday’s contest marks the second time in less than a week that Boston ace Josh Beckett will match up with Tampa Bay’s Andy Sonnanstine. Neither factored in the decision of the Rays’ 4-2, 14-inning victory on Wednesday that secured a series win for Tampa Bay.
Beckett (12-9, 4.10 ERA) allowed one run and six hits while striking out seven in that contest. The right-hander, who is 3-1 in his last five outings, is 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in four starts versus Tampa Bay in 2008 and 5-3 with a 3.38 ERA versus them during his career.
Sonnanstine (13-7, 4.47), meanwhile, was better, yielding no earned runs and four hits while striking out seven in seven innings. The right-hander, who had allowed 13 earned runs over his previous three starts, is 1-1 with a 6.59 ERA in five career starts against the Red Sox.