With first place at stake in the American League East, Boston used a quality start from southpaw Jon Lester and a lights out performance from its bullpen Tuesday night to notch a 6-2 win over Tampa in game two of a four game series at Fenway between the two teams. The win moved the Red Sox back to a 1.5 game lead over Tampa and marked the 95th consecutive day Boston has occupied first place in the brutally competitive A.L. East. Lester picked up the win to improve to 9-6 on the season, helping Boston improve its series mark over to Tampa to 10-4 on the year. Boston’s 61st win of the year also helped the Red Sox to improve to 34-18 at home, and more importantly 26-17 against A.L. East opponents.
Tampa grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning on rookie Will Myers’ 5th home run of the season. Boston countered in the bottom of the second to tie the game at 1-1 when Mike Napoli tagged Tampa starter and eventual loser Roberto Hernandez for a double, and scored on Mike Carp’s RBI single.
The Red Sox moved in front by the score of 2-1 in the third inning when Shane Victorino led off with a double and moved to third on a deep fly out by Daniel Nava. Dustin Pedroia, Boston’s new $100-million man, was then hit by a pitch. The Red Sox pulled off a rare double steal with Pedroia on the move to second, allowing Victorino to score from third when Jose Molina attempted to gun down Pedrioa who was safe at second. Boston increased its lead to 3-1 an inning later when Daniel Nava doubled, moved to third on a passed ball and eventually scored on a Sac Fly by Pedroia.
Tampa answered in the fourth when Evan Longoria tagged Lester for his 21st home run of the season to pull Tampa within a 3-2 score.
Lester departed after getting James Loney to fly out in the top of the seventh, but then gave up a double to Molina before heading to the bench with a slim 3-2 lead. He finished the night with a pitching line of 6-and-one-third innings, 2 earned runs on seven hits with no walks and a season-high tying eight strike outs. That’s when manager John Farrell turned the game over to Boston’s overworked bullpen, which responded with brilliance.
Matt Thorton got Sean Rodriguez to ground out for the second out of the inning, then, Junichi Tazawa closed the seventh by striking out Desmond Jennings to preserve Lester’s lead. Tazawa locked down the Rays in the eighth by striking out Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria and getting the third out by enticing Will Myers to ground to second.
Boston added a trio of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth when Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew and Jose Iglesias combined to manufacture three runs on a double and a trio of singles, including Iglesias’ two RBI infield single on a high chopper to third, giving Boston a 6-2 cushion.
Boston’s Koji Uehara finished off the Rays in the ninth by striking out Matt Joyce and James Loney and getting Yunelis Escobar to fly out to right to seal the Red Sox victory. Boston has now held first place in the A.L. East since May 27th, despite losing both its closers to injury and the absence of undefeated starter Clay Buchholz, who has not pitched since June 8th.
In other Bosox news Tuesday, Dustin Pedroia, the heart and soul of the Red Sox, will remain the heart and soul of the Red Sox, probably through the end of his career. The team announced today that they have reached a seven-year, $100-million contract extension with the All-Star second baseman that will keep him in a Red Sox uniform through the 2021 season at which time he will be 37.
Also Tuesday, injured Clay Buchholz says he expects to pitch again this season, but it probably won’t be until late August. Buchholz was cleared through a second medical opinion Monday to begin a throwing program after being shelved since June 8 with soreness in his neck and shoulder. The Red Sox remain in the market for a reliever and possibly another starter prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Game three of the four game series with Tampa resumes at Fenway Park Wednesday night with the Rays and Red Sox under the national spotlight. Recently activated Tampa ace David Price (4-5, 4.03 ERA) will face Boston southpaw Felix Doubront (7-3, ERA 3.76) in an ESPN televised game with the first pitch scheduled for 7:10 p.m.