Tampa Bay seeks its second straight win at Fenway Park and tries to build a nearly insurmountable lead in the wild-card race when these AL East rivals wrap up a three-game set.
With only this contest remaining in the season series, time appears to be running out on the Red Sox (77-62) to catch the Rays (84-54). After routing Boston 14-5 on Tuesday, Tampa Bay leads the Red Sox by 7 1/2 games for the wild card.
Boston had originally planned to start Clay Buchholz(notes) on three days’ rest for the series finale, but with its playoff chances growing more remote by the day, manager Terry Francona announced following Tuesday’s loss that veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield(notes) (3-10, 5.19 ERA) will take the ball instead.
While Buchholz won’t get the chance to make a final stand for the Red Sox in the wild-card race, probable Rays starter Matt Garza(notes) (14-7, 3.46 ERA) didn’t get the opportunity to pitch as long as he would have liked in his last start.
The right-hander exchanged words with manager Joe Maddon while being removed in the sixth inning of Friday’s 4-1 victory at Baltimore. He’d walked three batters and given up a run and five hits over 5 2-3 frames, but still got credit for the victory.
“I love the fact that our pitchers don’t want to come out of the game, and he’s kind of trained himself to pitch farther,” Maddon said. “However, it was very hot (Friday) and humid, and I want to try and keep people fresh for the rest of the year.”
Garza has shown no signs of wilting in the late-summer heat. He’s 3-0 in his last four starts and has a 1.32 ERA in six outings since the start of August, including a 10-inning, 3-2 victory over Boston on Aug. 28 in which he limited the Red Sox to one run over seven innings of a pitchers’ duel with Buchholz.
This will be the sixth start and seventh appearance versus Boston for Garza in 2010. He’s 2-1 with one save and a 4.11 ERA in this season’s matchups, and 7-3 with a 3.48 ERA in 18 lifetime games against the Red Sox.
He’ll take the mound one night after David Price(notes) threw six innings of two-hit ball to earn his 17th win, snap Tampa Bay’s three-game losing streak and move the Rays back within 1 1/2 games of the Yankees for the East lead.
“We’ve got the World Series on our minds right now so that’s what we’re playing for,” Price said.
“In the two-hole, he gets less opportunities,” Maddon said. “By putting him (No.) three with two guys with high on-base percentage in front of him, potentially to get on base, that increases his potential to drive in runs.”
Crawford has faced Wakefield more than any other pitcher in his career, going 26 for 88 (.295) in their matchups.
Wakefield will be making his first start since Aug. 25, when he allowed four runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 4-2 loss to Seattle. His last 11 appearances - four of them starts - have all come in Red Sox losses. The 44-year-old right-hander has a 5.85 ERA in that span, which includes a July 7 loss at Tampa Bay in which he gave up six runs and walked six in 5 2-3 innings.