BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox certainly didn't slow Tampa Bay's late-season run to the AL's wild card berth last year, so why start now.
David Price was overpowering in throwing a complete game for his 19th win, Jeff Keppinger belted a three-run homer and the Rays won their sixth straight with a 5-2 victory over the Red Sox Tuesday night.
One year ago, Boston was in the midst of blowing a large wild-card lead during its September collapse as the Rays overtook the Red Sox on the final day of the season.
The only difference this season -- and it's a big one for the lowly Red Sox (69-86) -- is the Rays are in hot pursuit of Baltimore and Oakland. Tampa Bay moved to 2 1/2 games back of the Athletics and 3 1/2 behind the Orioles, who were 4-0 losers at home against Toronto. Oakland played later Tuesday.
Rays manager Joe Maddon likes what he sees from his team coming into pressure-packed games.
"We're nice and loose," he said. "But then there's a nice business-like focus when the game begins and it's a great combination."
It's a formula he's used the past few years. They take whacky theme road trips, dressing with disco outfits, college sweaters and weird bow ties, but the Rays are making a run again.
The Red Sox will finish out their miserable home schedule Wednesday night against the Rays. Boston (34-46 at home) could match its worst home mark since 1965 with a loss on Wednesday.
Price (19-5) struck out 13 and allowed two runs on seven hits in his second complete game, matching the Angels' Jered Weaver for the league lead in wins. The lefty lowered his major-league leading ERA to 2.56.
"He was outstanding," Boston outfielder Cody Ross said of Price. "It just goes to show why he's one of the elite of the elite pitchers. He got himself in some trouble early and probably didn't have his best stuff, but he just reached back and found it and was dominating after that. He just came out and kept getting big strikeouts, groundballs. His stuff was as good anybody's."
Ross went 1-for-4, struck out once and bounced into a double play.
Clay Buchholz (11-7) took the loss, giving up five runs -- four earned -- on eight hits, while walking two and striking out five. The right-hander felt he was back to his early-season ways when he struggled badly and allowed five or more runs in each of his first six starts of the year.
"Tonight was just one of those nights that I didn't have a usual command, feel for pitches that I have had for the past couple of months," he said. "It was just one of those games. I haven't felt that way since all the trouble that was going on earlier in the season."
Leading 3-2 in the sixth, the Rays added a pair of runs against Buchholz. Jose Molina had an RBI single in the gap in left-center, and the second run scored when left fielder Daniel Nava bobbled the ball for an error.
The Red Sox collected three hits in each of the second and third innings, but Price retired 14 of the next 16 batters, striking out 10. Dustin Pedroia had a single for the only hit in that stretch, but was erased on Ross' double play grounder.
The Rays jumped on a wild Buchholz to take a 3-0 lead in the second. Keppinger homered off a light tower above the Green Monster after Evan Longoria and Luke Scott opened the inning with walks. After the homer, Buchholz gave up consecutive one-out singles, but struck out Desmond Jennings to escape any further scoring.
"He's a quality pitcher and after walking two guys in a row he wants to get ahead," Keppinger said. "It was one of those things. Either I'm going to take first pitch or I'm going to be looking to get that first. I decided if he threw it I'm swinging. He gave it to me and I put a good swing on it."
Boston cut it to 3-1 in the second on Danny Valencia's RBI single, but he was thrown out at first after taking a wide turn. It was the first of two base-running mistakes by the Red Sox in the first three innings.
In the third, Pedro Ciriaco and Nava had one-out singles, but Ciriaco was caught stealing third. Pedroia followed with double into the gap that would have scored a run. Luckily for the Red Sox, Price balked home a run, making it 3-2, before fanning Ross to end the inning with a runner on third.
That's when Price settled down and looked like a Cy Young candidate.
"He kept getting better as the game was in progress," Maddon said. "Started out slowly, then really started to mix his pitches better."
Notes: Boston center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury missed his fourth straight game with a strained lat muscle. Manager Bobby Valentine said he could have played, but they took an additional day to be sure it was fine. ... Keppinger came into the game hitting .339 since the All-Star break, third best in the majors. ... Former Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens watched the Sox take batting practice from behind the cage with his son Kobe. ... The Red Sox honored the 2004 World Series-winning team with a ceremony on the field before the game. Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, Kevin Millar, Mike Timlin, Keith Foulke, and former manager Terry Francona rode in a Duck Boat, tossing soft rubber balls to the fans as video highlights of the season were shown on the center-field scoreboard. Foulke threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Varitek and the former catcher ran toward the mound and jumped into Foulke's arms, imitating their final moment of the Series. ... The Rays pushed Matt Moore's next start back a day. He was scheduled to start Friday against the White Sox. Jeremy Hellickson will go Friday. "Just potentially what may happen later," Maddon said. "That's all." . . . Molina left the game in the sixth with a right quad strain he suffered on his hit. ... The attendance was 37, 045, pushing the Red Sox over 3-million mark for the fifth straight season.