Despite having never been involved in a pennant race throughout its existence, the Tampa Bay Rays are holding up well.
The Rays look to increase their lead in the AL East as they conclude their season series with the second-place Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.
Dioner Navarro drove home the winning run in the ninth inning, sending Tampa Bay (89-60) a 2-1 win over Boston on Tuesday to even the three-game set and give the Rays back their one-game division lead over the Red Sox.
The Rays improved to 9-8 this season against the Red Sox (89-62), who hold a seven-game lead in the wild-card race, but have lost seven of eight at Tropicana Field. Though both teams appear headed to the postseason, the East winner will likely earn home-field advantage in the division series.
“We’re finally getting to the point now where we’re starting to believe that we can beat these guys, and that’s very important,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “You’ve got to believe you can beat all the guys in the division if you’re going to win it.”
“It’s amazing how one pitch can change the complexion of the game,” Beckett said
Pena had a three-run homer in 14th inning of Tampa Bay’s 4-2 win at Fenway last Wednesday. Navarro, meanwhile, drove in the game-winning run for the second time in a week against Boston.
The All-Star catcher is batting .357 (5-for-14) with three RBIs against Boston’s Wednesday starter Tim Wakefield.
Wakefield (9-10, 3.92 ERA) hopes to build off one of his better outings of the season after allowing three hits in eight innings of a 7-0 victory over Toronto on Friday.
“Getting through eight was a huge swing from last time,” said Wakefield, who yielded seven runs in 1 2-3 innings of a loss to Texas in his previous start. “Shutouts are nice, but the most important thing is to win the game.”
The right-handed knuckleballer is 17-4 with a 3.23 ERA in 30 starts against the Rays and 0-1 with a 2.77 ERA versus them in 2008.
Tampa Bay counters with Matt Garza (11-9, 3.60), who looks to avoid a third straight losing decision as he’s scheduled to take the ball on three days’ rest. He allowed three runs and six hits in five innings, but didn’t factor in the decision of a 6-5 loss to the New York Yankees on Saturday.
The right-hander is 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in three starts versus Boston this season and 3-1 in five outings versus the Red Sox during his career.
Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury had two hits and Youkilis, who drove in three runs in the Red Sox’s 13-5 win over the Rays on Monday, has driven in nine runs over his last eight games.
Boston is likely to be without third baseman Mike Lowell after he left Tuesday’s game with a sore hip. The club is already without outfielder Jason Bay - hitting .300 since being traded to the Red Sox - until Friday after leaving to be with his pregnant wife.