There has been no shortage of ninth-inning excitement in the first two games between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.
In Sunday's series finale at Fenway Park, the Red Sox hope to carry some momentum from their latest comeback victory over the Rays and finally move over .500 for the first time this season.
The series started with a bang Friday night, with Matt Joyce hitting a third-inning grand slam to lead Tampa Bay (28-19) to a 7-4 victory. The game, however, will be remembered for Red Sox reliever Franklin Morales hitting Luke Scott in the right leg in the ninth, prompting the benches to clear.
Rays manager Joe Maddon took offense to the beaning and tweeted, "What occurred in the 9th reeked of intent. Was ridiculous, absurd, idiotic, incompetent, cowardly behavior."
Boston manager Bobby Valentine saw things differently.
"I took offense to the aggressiveness of their coaches,'' he said prior to Saturday's game. "I thought it was really unprofessional."
While the war of words didn't escalate, the game did have a dramatic finish with Jarrod Saltalamacchia hitting a pinch-hit, two-run homer off closer Fernando Rodney with one out in the ninth to lift the Red Sox to a 3-2 victory.
Rodney entered with a 0.38 ERA and had converted his first 15 save chances for the Rays, who fell to 3-5 against Boston.
"We were saying, 'He's going to blow his first one.' Positive thinking,'' said Adrian Gonzalez, who watched in the clubhouse after coming out for a pinch runner in the sixth.
Boston (23-23) snapped the Rays' three-game winning streak and improved to 11-4 since May 11 to get back to .500 for the fifth time this season. The Red Sox, 5 1/2 games behind AL East-leading Baltimore, have yet to climb over the break-even mark, however, making this the latest into a season they've gone without eclipsing .500 since 1996, when they didn't do it until late August.
Jeremy Hellickson (4-1, 2.73 ERA) will be taking the ball for Tampa Bay trying to prevent Boston from gaining any more ground.
The right-hander gave up five runs - two earned - and eight hits over 7 1-3 innings in Monday's 6-2 loss to Toronto, his first regular-season defeat since Aug. 30, a span of 14 starts.
Prior to losing to the Blue Jays, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year allowed one run, five hits and two walks in six innings of a 2-1 home win over the Red Sox on May 16. He wasn't as sharp at Fenway a month earlier, permitting five runs and seven hits - including homers to Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Saltalamacchia - in five innings of a 13-5 loss April 14, but didn't get the decision.
Ortiz is batting .400 in 15 career at-bats against Hellickson.
The Red Sox counter with Clay Buchholz (4-2, 7.84), who will oppose Hellickson for the third time.
Buchholz has the majors' worst ERA but has received 8.76 runs of support per start - 1.61 more runs than any other pitcher. The righty, whose 1.91 WHIP is also worst in the majors, allowed five runs, six hits and four walks in 5 1-3 innings of an 8-6 win at Baltimore on Monday, but wasn't credited with a decision.
He had his best start of the season at Tampa Bay two weeks ago, yielding two runs and six hits in five innings, but took the loss as his offense provided him only one run.
Buchholz also opposed Hellickson a month ago, and gave up five runs and six hits in seven innings to get the win. He is 4-2 with a 2.61 ERA in his last eight starts versus the Rays, who managed just four singles Saturday.
Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena, who was hitless Saturday after going 4 for 12 with two homers, four RBIs and five runs in his first three games since being moved into the leadoff spot, is 3 for 7 with a double against Buchholz this season.