Rays-Red Sox Preview

The Associated Press

Boston's Felix Doubront credited his excellent performance last month against the Tampa Bay Rays for boosting his confidence, which hasn't wavered since.

For far different reasons, David Price's most recent outing versus the Red Sox may have provided motivation for his current surge.

The left-handers oppose each other Wednesday night at Fenway Park as AL East-leading Boston looks to deal Tampa Bay a second straight loss for the first time in nearly a month.

The Rays (59-42) had an opportunity to move into first place Tuesday, but had their six-game winning streak snapped with a 6-2 loss to the Red Sox (61-41).

Evan Longoria and Wil Myers hit solo homers for Tampa Bay, which had won 18 of its previous 20 since back-to-back losses June 26 and 28.

"We've been playing pretty darned good, and I am not going to be negative or critical about our group at all," manager Joe Maddon said.

Boston's victory increased its lead to 1 1/2 games over the Rays, and it avoided falling out of first place for the first time since May 25. It has won 10 of the 14 meetings with Tampa.

"Where we are in the standings, where they are (and) knowing we're only still in July, this (still) was a big game for us,'' manager John Farrell said.

Doubront (7-3, 3.76 ERA) has gone 3-0 with a 1.83 ERA over his last six starts, beginning when he allowed three hits in eight scoreless innings of Boston's 3-1 win over the Rays in the second game of a doubleheader June 18.

"This game gives me more confidence," Doubront said after that outing. "I needed this. I needed this to get more confident, trust more in my pitches. I'll go the next game and try to do the same and stay on one page, this page."

He's stayed positive while winning three straight starts, most recently giving up two runs - one earned - in 6 1-3 innings of a 4-2 win over the New York Yankees on Friday.

"My confidence, my focus is improving," Doubront said. "I'm just trying to go deep and help the team win the game, keep the score down and let my team score runs."

Doubront is 2-1 with a 3.06 ERA in six starts versus the Rays, though Price is 4-1 with a 2.13 ERA in eight starts at Fenway.

Price (4-5, 4.03) was roughed up for four runs in 2 1-3 innings before leaving with a strained left triceps in a 9-2 loss to the Red Sox on May 15, but he's gone 3-1 with a 1.97 ERA in four starts since returning from a nearly seven-week stint on the disabled list.

He allowed a career worst-tying three homers and four runs in seven innings but picked up an 8-5 win at Toronto on Friday.

"I thought he kept getting better,'' Maddon said. "He wasn't bad at the beginning, he just threw it in a couple of bad spots.''

Price already has matched last season's loss total in 18 fewer starts, but the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner gave up one run and struck out eight in six innings of Tampa's 2-1, 10-inning defeat April 13 at Boston.

Dustin Pedroia, who reportedly has agreed to a seven-year, $100 million extension with the Red Sox, is hitting .343 with a homer and four doubles lifetime off Price.

Boston has won six of the eight meetings at Fenway this season.