Superb pitching has the Tampa Bay Rays on the brink of overtaking the Boston Red Sox for the AL East lead.
Giving the ball to Jeremy Hellickson may keep the Rays rolling.
Hellickson looks to match his career-best winning streak Thursday night at Fenway Park and help the Rays move into first place this late in a season for the first time in three years.
After losing 6-2 on Tuesday, Tampa Bay (60-42) pulled within a half-game of Boston (61-42) again as David Price tossed a five-hitter in Wednesday's 5-1 victory.
Since being seven games back on June 28, the Rays have reeled off 19 wins in 22 games behind the pitching staff's 2.17 ERA and five complete games.
"It's just like hitting," Price said. "You hear it all the time - hitting is contagious. So is pitching. We've been on a good groove, It's been fun. We feel like we have five guys that can go out there and win anytime. I don't think there are many teams in the majors that can say that."
It'll be Hellickson (9-3, 4.62 ERA) on the hill as the Rays try to take this four-game set and reclaim the East lead for the first time since they were 5-3 on April 6. Tampa Bay hasn't been atop the division this late in a season since winning it in 2010.
The Rays should feel quite confident handing the ball to the right-hander, who's 5-0 with a 2.19 ERA over his last six starts. He won a career-high six straight decisions over 13 starts bridging 2011 and '12.
His current streak started with a 6-2 win at Boston on June 19, when he allowed two runs in six innings. He's 3-0 with a 3.68 ERA in six career starts at Fenway.
Hellickson enters this one after overcoming an illness Saturday, yielding two runs in five innings of a 4-3 victory at Toronto.
While the pitching has been brilliant during Tampa Bay's surge, rookie Wil Myers has given the offense a big boost. The right fielder has had multiple hits in his last six games and eight of his last nine, driving in a pair Wednesday.
He's 6 for 14 with two doubles and five RBIs over his past four games at Boston.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, have dropped five of eight while averaging 2.9 runs and batting .225.
Dustin Pedroia , who inked a $110 million, eight-year contract extension Wednesday, has been partly responsible for the offense's slump, going 1 for 19 over the past five games.
The All-Star second baseman is 4 for 28 in nine home meetings with Tampa Bay this season, going 0 for 9 in this series. He's also 5 for 28 with a homer versus Hellickson - 0 for 6 this year.
John Lackey (7-7, 2.95) has struggled against the Rays as well, going 0-3 with a 7.78 ERA over his past four starts. The right-hander allowed four runs and 10 hits - two homers - in 5 2-3 innings of a 10-8 win in 14 innings on June 10.
He can't be blamed entirely for losing two of his last three starts, compiling a 3.54 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 20 1-3 innings while the offense failed to give him any support in those defeats.
That was the scenario Saturday, when Lackey allowed four runs while fanning seven in 6 1-3 innings in a 5-2 loss to the New York Yankees .
|Jackie Bradley Jr.||2||.000||0||0||0||0||1||.000||.000||.000|
|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) -- Entering a showdown for first place with the Red Sox, the Tampa Bay Rays came in with the majors' hottest rotation.
They left town after Thursday's rainout still a half-game behind AL East-leading Boston, but had a pair of left-handers - David Price and Matt Moore - perform something that hadn't been done by two lefties in Fenway Park in nearly 40 years.
Price and Moore each pitched complete-game victories as the red-hot Rays took two of three from the Red Sox.
"I actually have had a chance to reflect on that," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said, sitting in his office about 90 minutes before the scheduled starting time. "There's something in (the press notes) about complete games for lefties in Fenway against the Sox."
The past two visiting left-handers to post complete-game wins over the Red Sox were Oakland's Vida Blue and Darold Knowles in 1973.
Now, the Red Sox may have to face one of them again when the teams get together for Monday's makeup game at 6:10 p.m.
The Rays listed Roberto Hernandez or Price for their matchup next week.
Price was outstanding in a 5-1 win on Wednesday, holding Boston to five hits, striking out four and not walking a batter en route to his third complete game in four starts.
Since returning from a 47-day stint on the disabled list because of a triceps strain, he is 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA in five starts.
The 27-year old left-hander overpowered Boston's hitters to lower his career ERA to 1.96 in Fenway, the lowest mark among active pitchers with at least 20 innings there.
The Rays head to New York for a three-game series against the Yankees, having won 19 of their past 22 games. Jeremy Hellickson (9-3, 4.62 ERA) is scheduled to face CC Sabathia (9-8, 4.37 ERA) on Friday. Chris Archer faces New York's Ivan Nova on Saturday and Moore goes against Phil Hughes on Sunday.
Tampa Bay's starters have a majors' best 2.21 ERA in their past 27 games, which started after they fell into the AL East's basement on June 23.
The Red Sox, who dropped a home series because of the shortened set with Tampa Bay after going 8-0-1, play the Orioles in Baltimore on Friday night.
John Lackey (7-7, 2.95 ERA) was scheduled to start Thursday, but he'll open the three-game series on Friday against Chris Tillman (12-3, 3.84).
Boston's scheduled starter for Saturday, Brandon Workman , was pushed back to next Tuesday. Ryan Dempster was moved from Friday to Saturday, Jon Lester remains on turn for Sunday and Felix Doubront is slated to pitch Monday's makeup.
"Keeping four of the five guys on their normal turn, despite John and Ryan getting an extra day, and just felt like Lester and Doubront in those slots, I felt like it was right," Boston manager John Farrell said.
Dempster said he found out as soon as Thursday's game was called.
"I just found out after they told us we'd be playing on Monday," he said. "It all ends up working out."
The Rays had a chance to overtake the Red Sox for first, and now it'll have to wait.
"It would be nice to leave town that way," Maddon said before the game was called. "These games have been very good, very interesting to watch for a fan and from the dugout. Obviously our pitching has been outstanding, we've gotten enough hits and the defense has been there."
NOTES: Boston has been alone atop the AL East since May 27. ... After the makeup, the Rays fly home and open a five-game homestand. ... Following Monday's game against Tampa Bay, Boston hosts Seattle and Arizona each for three games.