Rays-Red Sox Preview


After the Tampa Bay Rays found themselves on the verge of falling out of contention last week, they've climbed their way back into the AL wild-card race.

Seeking a sixth consecutive victory, Tampa Bay sends Cy Young candidate David Price to the hill Tuesday night as it kicks off a crucial six-game road swing against the Boston Red Sox.

Though many were ready to write off the Rays (83-70) after watching them drop seven of eight, they may have gotten hot just in the nick of time. Tampa Bay, which salvaged a four-game home split with Boston (69-85) before sweeping Toronto over the weekend, has hit .356 and outscored opponents 46-13 during its five-game winning streak.

"We understand that we've got to go out and win every game," third baseman Evan Longoria, who went 2 for 4 with two RBIs during Sunday's 3-0 win, told the team's official website. "We really don't have any pressure on us. We don't have anybody crawling up our tail, we're just able to focus on the people in front of us."

The Rays sit in fourth place in the wild-card standings, trying to track down third-place Los Angeles and second-place Oakland for a postseason spot. With nine games remaining on its schedule, Tampa Bay likely needs to dominate this trek.

"This road trip is pretty important, but we're not going to put any pressure on ourselves," outfielder B.J. Upton said after belting his 10th homer in 19 games Sunday. "We're going to have some fun with it and see what happens."

The Rays have to like their chances of keeping things going with Price (18-5, 2.58 ERA) on the mound. The left-hander owns the majors' lowest ERA and ranks third with a .783 winning percentage.

After missing a start earlier this month due to a sore shoulder, Price returned to throw seven innings of two-run ball during a 6-4 road win over the New York Yankees on Sept. 14. He held the Red Sox to three runs over 7 1-3 innings Thursday before Upton's game-ending three-run homer gave the Rays a 7-4 victory.

"I feel good," said Price, who's 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA over six career starts at Fenway Park. " ... I'm looking to go out there Tuesday and try to help us win."

The Red Sox counter with Clay Buchholz (11-6, 4.16), who limited Tampa Bay to four hits over seven scoreless innings opposite Price last week before the bullpen came undone.

"(Buchholz) was really that good," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's so annoying to see him that good. He was that good. He had everything working - two-seamer underneath, cutter going the other way, curveball when he wanted, changeup to both sides of the plate.

"He was on top of his game. He was definitely as good as he can be."

Winless in his last six starts overall, Buchholz has gone 5-4 with a 2.52 ERA over 13 career matchups versus Tampa Bay, allowing two earned runs or fewer in all but three of those outings.

Boston went 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position Sunday but snapped a four-game skid with its seventh win in 25 games, beating Baltimore 2-1.

This two-game set between the Red Sox and Rays marks Boston's final home series of 2012. The Red Sox have dropped 17 of 24 at Fenway since Aug. 1, posting an AL-worst 5.10 home ERA over that stretch.

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