While the Boston Red Sox sit atop the AL East, they will have to hold off one of baseball's hottest teams over the next four days in order to maintain their lead.
The visiting Tampa Bay Rays try to keep rolling in Monday night's series opener against the Red Sox.
Tampa Bay (58-41) has outscored opponents 94-44 in going a major league-best 17-2 since June 29, climbing to within 1 1/2 games of Boston (60-40). The Rays have dropped nine of 12 to the Red Sox this year, but they are hoping to come out with a better effort in this pivotal division showdown.
"Big series, two very good teams, an AL East battle," Rays designated hitter Luke Scott said. "It's going to be some good games, a lot on the line."
Scott has played a big part in his team's recent success, going 18 for 47 (.383) with four home runs and 10 RBIs during a 13-game hitting streak. He belted a two-run homer Sunday as Tampa Bay beat Toronto 4-3 for its fifth straight victory. Evan Longoria and Kelly Johnson also went deep for the Rays, winners of seven of eight on the road.
"Baseball's such a unique game," manager Joe Maddon told MLB's official website. "The turns and twists are incredible. That's the game we had been losing earlier in the year. Now, we're winning that same game."
Boston took two of three from the New York Yankees over the weekend, including a thrilling 8-7 win in Sunday's finale. After hitting a three-run homer earlier in the game, Mike Napoli delivered a walkoff shot with two outs in the 11th.
"He's a dangerous batter," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said of Napoli, who is second on the team with 13 homers and 62 RBIs. "He can do damage at any point in the game."
The Red Sox, who improved to 27-8 when Napoli drives in at least one run, have hit .311 while winning 20 of 26 at home since May 24, baseball's second-best record over that stretch.
Boston appears to have a difficult matchup in store against Matt Moore (13-3, 3.44 ERA), who is tied for the major league wins lead and pitched a scoreless inning in Tuesday's All-Star game. The left-hander has won each of his last five starts while compiling a 1.91 ERA and striking out 40 in 33 innings.
Moore allowed three runs, three hits and struck out 10 in 7 1-3 innings to beat Minnesota 4-3 on July 11 in his final outing before the break.
"Getting ahead early is big for me," he said. "When I do that, I can go to my other pitches and the game goes smoother."
While Moore posted a 6.57 ERA in losing both his starts versus Boston last year, he allowed three runs and three hits in six innings of a 5-3 victory May 14. Dustin Pedroia is 2 for 11 in their matchups, but David Ortiz is 5 for 10 with a homer and two doubles.
Boston counters with rookie Brandon Workman (0-0, 5.40), who took a no-hit bid into the seventh in a 3-2, 11-inning loss at Oakland on July 14. The right-hander gave up two runs, two hits and one walk in 6 1-3 innings, becoming the first Red Sox pitcher to allow three or fewer base runners in his first major league start since 1934.
"As well as he pitched against a very good team in Oakland - and we're going to have a team that's coming in here as hot as anyone in the game right now - the one thing that he does is he throws a lot of strikes," manager John Farrell said.
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|June 28, 2013||Evan Longoria||Day-to-Day||Plantar fasciitis, left foot|
|June 16, 2013||Alex Cobb||15-Day DL||Concussion|
|June 05, 2013||Kelly Johnson||Day-to-Day||Back stiffness|
|May 16, 2013||David Price||15-Day DL||Left triceps strain|
|May 16, 2013||David Price||15-Day DL||Left triceps strain|
|May 08, 2013||Brandon Gomes||15-Day DL||Strained right lat|
|Boston Red Sox|
|July 19, 2013||Shane Victorino||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hamstring tightness|
|July 13, 2013||Andrew Bailey||15-Day DL||Right shoulder strain|
|July 09, 2013||Alex Wilson||15-Day DL||Sprained right thumb|
|July 08, 2013||Jacoby Ellsbury||Day-to-Day||Sore left wrist|
|July 07, 2013||Andrew Miller||60-Day DL||Left foot surgery - out for season|
|June 29, 2013||Stephen Drew||15-Day DL||Right hamstring tightness|
BOSTON (AP) -- Matt Moore keeps struggling when he warms up in the bullpen before the game. Then he dominates when he gets out to the mound.
Joe Maddon is eager to see the trend continue.
"Maybe we'll kick him in the shins before he goes out," the Tampa Bay manager said after Moore pitched his first career shutout, a two-hitter to beat the Boston Red Sox 3-0 on Monday night and give the Rays their sixth consecutive win.
Ben Zobrist had three hits and James Loney drove in two runs for the Rays, who have lost just twice in 20 games since June 28. In the last month, the Rays have improved from last place to one-half game behind Boston in the AL East.
"I really believed we were going to get back into it," Maddon said. "I didn't know when."
In his first start since pitching a scoreless fifth inning in the All-Star game, Moore (14-3) gave up Mike Napoli 's single in the second and David Ortiz 's base-hit in the seventh. Ortiz took second on a wild pitch - the only baserunner to get past first.
"That was impressive to watch," Red Sox starter Brandon Workman said.
Moore walked one batter, struck out four and needed just 109 pitches - just three of them were "non-competitive," pitching coach Jim Hickey said - for his first career complete game and his sixth win in a row. He needed just six pitches to get through the sixth inning.
"I think that's the most efficient I've been," Moore said. "I think that's probably the best game I've ever thrown (considering) the Red Sox are playing well, and we're on the road."
Moore said he struggled in the bullpen trying to warm up before the game - just as he did at Citi Field for last week's All-Star game.
"It was pretty bad back there," he said. "But I told (catcher Jose Lobaton ), `We're going to be OK. We'll figure it out out there."'
Workman (0-1) made his second career start, giving up two runs on seven hits and two walks, striking out four in six innings.
"Overall, a very well-pitched game on both sides. But Matt Moore was the story of the night," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "We really didn't have a chance to get anything going."
Workman, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his other start, allowed three straight singles to start the game before Loney made it 1-0 on a sacrifice fly.
Loney, who rejoined the team from the paternity list on Sunday, also had a run-scoring single in the fifth. Loney was the only established major-leaguer acquired by Boston in last-season's salary-dumping trade that sent Josh Beckett , Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers .
Desmond Jennings drove in the third run with a sacrifice fly in the eighth off Jose De La Torre.
Yunel Escobar , who hadn't played since the All-Star break because of a right hamstring strain, returned to the lineup for Tampa Bay and went 1-for-2 with two walks and a run. He played errorless defense at shortstop for the 53rd consecutive game, a club record.
Notes: The Red Sox said a second opinion on Clay Buchholz 's right shoulder showed no significant structural damage. ... In his last six starts, all wins, Moore has a 1.50 ERA. ... Wil Myers sat out the game with a sore left wrist. ... The Red Sox are 9-4 against the Rays this season. ... In Workman's previous start, he had his no-hit bid broken up by Coco Crisp 's infield hit to start the seventh inning. ... All 10 hits in the game were singles.