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Rays sweep two in Boston, keep pace in wild-card race

The SportsXchange

BOSTON -- Just like last year, the Tampa Bay Rays have a tough road ahead if they are going to make the playoffs.

They made it last year on the final night of the season. Can they do it again?

"I want it to be exactly like last year," manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday night after the Rays' 4-2 win over the Boston Red Sox bolstered Tampa Bay's hopes in the chase for an American League wild-card spot. "It's starting to look a lot of Christmas, and we've just been playing so well; the mantra is one game at a time. We've gotta go 1-0 on Thursday (in Chicago). We went 1-0 on Tuesday, we went 1-0 on Wednesday, now we've gotta go 1-0 on Thursday.

"What I like is there's a real looseness about us, but I tell ya, when the game begins, their focus is really good; they draw it in really nicely, and I like that. So I'm really eager to get to Chicago. It was great that we won these two games here; it was very important that we did."

Looseness? After the game, as Red Sox fans ran the bases following the final home game of Boston's disastrous season, Rays rookies, 10 of them dressed in women's bathing suits and wigs, came out and danced on the warning track in front of the Green Monster, part of their rookie hazing.

The Rays, who have won seven in a row, matching their season-high winning streak, still have plenty of work to do. They have seven games left and trail both the Oakland A's and the Baltimore Orioles by three games in the loss column, with the Los Angeles Angels in between. Tampa Bay finishes with three at home against the Orioles after four against the Chicago White Sox.

Carlos Pena (No. 19, a two-run blast) and Ben Francisco (No. 2 with Tampa Bay) hit back-to-back, tape-measure homers in the fifth inning as the Rays finished off a two-game sweep of Boston in what could have been Bobby Valentine's final home game as manager.

Jon Lester, who didn't allow a hit in the first four innings, got the first out in the fifth on a spectacular play by rookie shortstop Jose Iglesias, but Jeff Keppinger singled. Pena then drilled one almost off the back wall of the center field bleachers, his seventh homer in 12 career hits off Lester (9-14).

"Lester was just throwing a great ballgame," Pena said. "Baseball is an interesting game; he was just cruising through four, and rightfully so. His stuff, I thought, was electric. He was hitting spots; his fastball, his cutter was working, and then we were able to get him."

No other player has more than four homers off Lester.

"I know that I've had some success against him," Pena said. "He's made me look foolish many times as well. When I do beat him, it definitely feels good. We've had some good battles, and I have so much respect for him."

Alex Cobb (10-9) worked the first five innings for the win, with five relievers finishing off a four-hitter. Fernando Rodney earned his 45th save, tying Rafael Soriano's club record.

The Sox honored their All-Fenway team in pregame ceremonies wrapping up the park's 100th anniversary. The 2012 team then went out and lost its 87th game, finishing 34-47 at home, Boston's worst Fenway record since 1965.

The latest defeat went down the tubes basically on two pitches.

"My stuff didn't change. I had good stuff through the whole game. But, yeah, two pitches," Lester said. "A good pitch to Keppinger, he did a good job keeping his hands in on the ball. I felt like I made a good pitch to Pena down and away. The ball kind of backed up on me a little bit on the second homer. But, yeah, two pitches."

Daniel Nava and Loney drove in runs for the Red Sox, while Jose Lobaton delivered a seventh-inning run for Tampa Bay with a double.

Red Sox pitchers recorded their last 11 outs on strikeouts, matching the club record post-1961.

Boston's Dustin Pedroia walked twice and stole the 99th and 100th bases of his career.

NOTES: Valentine, asked before the game if he thought he would be brought back for the second year of his contract, said, "My gut feeling is they haven't talked to me yet. There hasn't been any dialogue. We've talked, but not about that. Which makes me think I'm coming back. I don't know." ... Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Carl Yastrzemski were among those on hand for the pregame ceremony, with Manny Ramirez nowhere to be found on the list of 40 honored players. "It's great," Clemens said of his welcome from the fans, first at Sunday's Johnny Pesky tribute and again Wednesday night. "I can't control the spattering of other things, but every time I'm in this town, they've been nothing but great and thankful for the effort I gave when I was here. I know how I went about my work and what I tried to do here, and we came close so many times and made a lot of great memories. I had 13 wonderful years here." Current Sox players David Ortiz and Pedroia were on the first team. Yastrzemski was second to Ted Williams for the left field spot. ... The Rays send James Shields against the White Sox's Jake Peavy in the first of four in Chicago on Thursday night, while the Red Sox continue to try to play spoiler when Aaron Cook faces Baltimore's Chris Tillman on Friday night. ... When David Price notched his 200th strikeout Tuesday night, he and Shields became the seventh set of teammates to record back-to-back 200-K seasons, the first since Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson did it for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001-02.
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