The Boston Red Sox continue to use late-inning drama to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays, and some extra tension seems to have crept into this AL East rivalry.
Both teams could use some length from their starters after a wild extra-inning affair as Boston's Jon Lester and Tampa Bay's Roberto Hernandez match up Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.Boston (40-25) improved to 6-1 against Tampa Bay (34-29) with Monday's 10-8, 14-inning victory to open this three-game set. The Red Sox, winners of eight of 11, have won four times in their final at-bat against the Rays.There was plenty of drama Monday, beginning with a brief benches-clearing scrum in the sixth inning after the Rays' Matt Joyce was hit by a pitch from John Lackey with two outs and Boston leading 6-4.Joyce took several steps toward the mound and shouted at Lackey. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia got in between the two and restrained Joyce.The Rays insisted Lackey was intentionally trying to hit Joyce."There's no question in my mind he did," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "And the sad part is I've always considered Lackey a good teammate, but right there he could get one of his own players hurt."The Red Sox had a different opinion."He was trying to throw the ball in, off the plate, obviously. There was no intent to hit him," manager John Farrell said.The Rays rallied from a 6-0 deficit to force extra innings, and each team scored twice in the 10th. Daniel Nava hit a tiebreaking single in the 14th, and Saltalamacchia singled in another run with his fourth hit of the night as the Red Sox finally went ahead for good.Boston needed seven relievers to work 8 1/3 innings while Tampa Bay used seven to pitch 10.That leaves plenty of the onus Tuesday on Lester (6-2, 2.60 ERA) and Hernandez to provide some relief to their respective bullpens, which have pitched a combined 33 2/3 innings over the past three days.Lester is 0-2 with a 5.68 ERA over his last four starts, but he's 5-1 with a 3.38 ERA in eight career outings at Tropicana Field including his 9-2 victory May 15 in which he allowed two runs over seven innings.The left-hander has dominated numerous Tampa Bay hitters, with Ben Zobrist striking out 17 times against him and Evan Longoria 16 times. Zobrist is hitting .190 against Lester and Longoria .200.That's at least better than Kelly Johnson, who is 0 for 12, and Luke Scott, 0 for 11.Hernandez (3-6, 5.03) doesn't appear to be a formidable opponent as he owns the Rays' most losses, but he is 2-2 with a 2.68 ERA in seven starts against Boston.Dustin Pedroia is batting .321 during a 14-game hitting streak, but he's 1 for 12 against Hernandez. David Ortiz is 7 for 19 with a homer versus the right-hander.Hernandez last pitched Thursday, and all of his victories have come on regular rest. He is 0-4 when he has at least five days between starts.Farrell indicated that Mike Napoli will be back in the lineup Tuesday after the slugger was rested Monday.
Earlier this season, it appeared Jon Lester was back to being the ace-like pitcher he was from 2008-11. Through his first 9 starts, Lester was 6-0, 2.72 ERA; in the 4 starts since then, he's 0-2, 5.68 ERA. What's been the difference? Two things: Lester is struggling against lefties and he's having trouble locating his fastball.