The surging Rays have trimmed that deficit nearly in half and will try to move another game closer to the ailing Red Sox on Saturday night.
Tampa Bay (79-64) appeared to be steadily heading toward elimination during a 5-7 stretch that it carried into this month.
Instead, the Rays have bounced back with five wins in six games, including 7-2 in Friday’s opener of a three-game series at Tropicana Field. In the first of seven remaining matchups between these clubs, John Jaso(notes) hit an early three-run homer to help reduce the Red Sox’s lead to 5 1/2 games.
“We do believe,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s all about one at a time. But obviously we have to make a big dent with these seven games.”
As Tampa Bay has found some traction, Boston (85-59) has dropped seven of its first nine this month while falling out of first in the AL East.
Injuries haven’t helped as three members of the original starting rotation - Josh Beckett(notes) (ankle), Clay Buchholz(notes) (back), Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes) (elbow) - are all out. Erik Bedard(notes) is dealing with a strained lat muscle, and John Lackey(notes) left in the third inning Friday after getting hit on the left calf by a Jaso line drive.
Third baseman Kevin Youkilis(notes) also headed back to Boston on Friday to be examined by team doctors and undergo an MRI exam on his ailing hip. Manager Terry Francona said Youkilis has bursitis and received a cortisone shot. It is not known if he will rejoin the team Saturday or remain in Boston.
“We’re inconsistent right now,” Francona said. “All teams go through that, so you’ve got to fight through it. We’ve got to find ways to win. Sometimes it’s harder to win than others, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”
Due to their injuries, the Red Sox had to call up Kyle Weiland(notes) (0-1, 6.75 ERA) from the minors Monday, and he’ll get the ball for this game. The right-hander went 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA in his first two major league starts in July - both against Baltimore - and tossed two scoreless innings in relief Tuesday in Toronto.
Jeremy Hellickson(notes) (12-10, 2.90) will try to deliver another strong outing for the Rays. The right-hander has a 1.50 ERA over his last four starts but is 2-2 and has received zero runs in the two losses.
He got a few more runs to work with during an 8-1 victory over the Orioles on Sunday. Hellickson allowed one run and four hits during his second career complete game.