Red Sox-Rays Preview

The Associated Press

A stellar pitching performance got the Boston Red Sox's drive toward an AL East title back on track.

Ryan Dempster will try to get the Red Sox's magic number into single digits Wednesday night with another solid outing against the sputtering Tampa Bay Rays.

Boston (88-58) has closed in on its first division title since 2007 by winning 13 of 16 but headed into Tampa Bay after a 4-3 loss to the New York Yankees on Sunday. The Red Sox bounced back with a 2-0 victory in Tuesday's series opener.

"We've played good in a lot of aspects of the game," outfielder Jonny Gomes told the team's website. "That's what we have to do to stay in first in major league baseball. You need to pitch, you need to play D and you need to touch the dish. It's something we've done."

That result pushed Boston's lead over the Rays (78-65) to 8 1/2 games and dropped its magic number to 10.

"We want to keep our foot on the gas," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said.

Dempster (8-9, 4.79 ERA) will try to follow with his third straight win since a five-game suspension for intentionally hitting the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez on Aug. 18. He'll also seek to improve on his 2.77 ERA in two matchups with Tampa Bay this season.

The right-hander, though, is 0-1 in those matchups in large part because of a combined four runs of support. He hasn't had that problem in recent starts and benefited from a 20-4 rout of Detroit on Wednesday.

Dempster gave up four runs and struck out seven over six innings in that game, and the Red Sox tied a franchise record with eight homers.

"One through nine, we have a guy that can hit the ball over the fence," Dempster said. "That's something not a lot of teams have."

The Rays, losers in 12 of 16, are 1 1/2 games ahead of Baltimore and Cleveland for the AL's wild-card berth.

Tampa Bay has scored only 41 runs in those 16 games while batting .180 with runners in scoring position.

"We've got 19 games left, so you go now or we won't be hanging around in October," pitcher David Price said.

Alex Cobb (8-3, 2.99) will try to give Tampa Bay a much-needed boost with a better performance against the Red Sox. The right-hander gave up a season-high six runs over four innings in his most recent matchup with Boston, a 10-8 home loss June 10.

"This September time of the year is fun regardless, but it being even more heated with Boston coming in. It's definitely a little bit of added adrenaline to the game," Cobb told the team's website.

Cobb was 2-2 with a 2.79 ERA in his previous five games against the Red Sox but enters this one winless in his last three outings. After allowing two runs or fewer in five straight games, Cobb gave up four runs over six innings in a 6-4 loss in Seattle on Friday.

Pedroia is 4 for 9 this season against Cobb and could be batting leadoff for the second straight game Wednesday. He was in that spot for the first time in four years in Tuesday's win because of Jacoby Ellsbury's broken right foot.

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