ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The struggling Tampa Bay Rays spoke confidently, saying their goal is still to win the American League East. But the Boston Red Sox certainly aren't playing like a team ready to give away first place.
Clay Buchholz picked up where he left off three months ago, pitching five scoreless innings in his return to the mound and leading the Boston to a 2-0 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.
Making his first start since June 8 after spending three months on the disabled list with a neck strain, Buchholz struck out six and scattered three hits, extending Boston's AL East lead to 8 1/2 games.
"A healthy Clay Buchholz is going to be a great addition," said Red Sox manager John Farrell, whose club has won nine of its last 11 games, 13 of 16 and 14 of 20. "He showed it tonight."
The Rays, meanwhile, lost for the 12th time in their last 16 games. With the Orioles and Indians also losing Tuesday night, Tampa Bay maintained a 1 1/2-game lead for the second American League wild card spot, but the Yankees climbed to within two games and the Royals within three.
At the end of play on Aug. 24, the Rays were percentage points ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East. Since then, they've won just four times while everyone else around them surges forward.
"It's a bad time to be playing bad," Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings said.
Buchholz was largely responsible for silencing the Rays' bats, lowering his ERA to 1.61 as he improved to 10-0 in 13 starts this season. Tuesday's victory made Buchholz the first Red Sox pitcher to begin a season 10-0 since Roger Clemens did so in 1986.
The right-hander admitted he was "a little nervous," but mostly anxious, before taking the mound. It didn't show, however.
"It's been a long time coming for me," Buchholz said. "So I'm definitely happy to be back out there."
While Buchholz posted the win, Tampa Bay got a strong, gutsy outing from starter David Price, who struck out nine in eight innings on 127 pitches, a career high and the most by a Rays pitcher since Victor Zambrano threw 128 on July 8, 2004.
On his 127th and final pitch, Price blew a 94 mph fastball past Stephen Drew. He said he was no more motivated to win Tuesday's game than any other start, but the way he pitched said otherwise.
Yet once again, the Rays couldn't muster any offense to support their left-handed ace. They've scored only 41 runs in their last 16 games, and their latest feeble effort wasted a pitching performance in which Price "could not have done anything more," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said.
"You can't dwell on it," Price said. "We have 19 games left. You dwell now, and we'll be hanging out in October."
Price carried a perfect game into the fifth but quickly unraveled. Mike Napoli led off the inning with a double to the center-field wall that Jennings couldn't reel in. Napoli came around to score on Jonny Gomes' single up the middle, putting the Red Sox on the board first.
Gomes advanced to second on Jennings' weak throw home, and Boston used two sacrifices to put up another run. Daniel Nava dropped a sacrifice bunt to get Gomes to third, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia launched a sacrifice fly to deep center field, easily scoring Gomes and giving the Red Sox a 2-0 lead.
Buchholz took care of it from there, then the Red Sox bullpen did its job when he left after five innings and 74 pitches.
Lefty reliever Craig Breslow worked two hitless innings, right-hander Junichi Tazawa got two outs in the eighth and closer Koji Uehara notched a four-out save, his 19th save of the season, to secure Boston's major league-leading 88th victory.
"They've pitched well against us all year. Boston has beaten us because they've actually outpitched us in most of those games," Maddon said. "We're just going to have to figure out how to break through offensively."
NOTES: Uehara has retired each of his last 31 batters faced, extending his record streak for a Red Sox reliever. He has not allowed a run in 28 1/3 innings, the longest active streak in the majors. ... The Rays have been limited to one run or less in six of their 17 games against the Red Sox this year and two runs or less in 10 of 17. ... The Red Sox activated Buchholz from the 60-day disabled list. To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, Boston designated RHP Jose De La Torre for assignment. De La Torre, 27, logged a 6.35 ERA in seven relief appearances for the Red Sox this year. ... Rays reliever Jesse Crain, acquired before the July 31 trade deadline, threw 36 pitches on Tuesday afternoon, his second side session as he recovers from a right shoulder strain. The Rays will determine Crain's next step on Wednesday, but he hopes to pitch this season and said he's "getting close." ... Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia batted leadoff on Tuesday for the first time since 2009. ... MLB announced its schedule for the 2014 season on Tuesday. The Red Sox will open their 114th season on March 31 at Baltimore, their fourth straight season opening on the road, with their home opener set for April 4 against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Rays will open their season against the Blue Jays on March 31 at Tropicana Field.