SOX SHUT OUT THE RAYS (9:46 P.M.)
The Red Sox didn't score after the first inning, and they didn't need to. Papelbon just dispatched the Rays in 18 total pitches to finish off Jon Lester's gem and give the Sox a 3-0 victory. They're now only 1/2 game back. On Sept. 1, they woke up 5 1/2 behind the Rays. Papelbon struck out three of the five batters he faced and allowed a single to Eric Hinske.
FROM CHUCK WASELESKI (9:29 P.M.)
Something to keep in mind if Papelbon slams the door in the ninth: "Coming into tonight, Jon Lester had started 6 games in which the Red Sox have shut out their opponents, tied for the major league lead with Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia."
ANOTHER HIT FOR CRISP, ANOTHER PITCHER FOR TAMPA BAY (9:26 P.M.)
Crisp continued his unreal hitting stretch with another single in the top of the eighth, chasing Jackson from the game after 98 pitches. Give Jackson credit for keeping the Rays in the game after the disastrous first. Crisp was thrown out trying to advance to second on a ball that bounced away from Navarro.
PAPELBON GETS HIS MAN (9:18 P.M.)
Papelbon started Baldelli with a 94-mph fastball for strike one. He fired two balls, then Baldelli fouled off a 96-mph heater, then another 97-mph fastball. On his second 2-2 pitch, Papelbon threw another 97-mph fastball. Baldelli swung through it for his fourth K of the night. Straight gas from Papelbon tonight, folks.
Lester, by the way, threw 73 of his 118 pitches for strikes.
ALMOST EIGHT FOR LESTER (9:13 P.M.)
After Lester got his ninth K and second out of the eighth with another curve in the dirt, Ben Zobrist drilled Lester's 117th pitch high off the Monster, one of the homers the Wall took away. But Terry Francona stuck with him for one more batter, Carlos Pena. Pitch No. 118 took one hop down the rightfield line and bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double, and that was it for Lester.
Lester received a standing ovation as he walked off, his black glove in his left hand and his head down save for one moment, when he looked up and gently tipped his capped. The ovation died, then grew louder than before as Papelbon dug in on the mound. Men on second and third with the tying run up, two outs, eighth inning. Baldelli, who struck out three times so far, is up.
LESTER STILL IN (9:06 P.M.)
Having allowed no runs on four hits and three balls through 106 pitches and seven innings, Lester is still in the game for the start of the eighth. He has eight strikeouts, too. (I think I overshot by one on pitches and Ks in the last entry, my bad.) Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon are throwing in the 'pen.
LESTER OUT OF THE SEVENTH (9 P.M.)
Gross popped meekly to Youkilis in foul territory to end the seventh. With the Sox batting in the seventh, no one is throwing in the bullpen. Lester accepted several fist-pumps in the dugout, but they seemed to be saying, "Hey, nice job," rather than "Hey, nice game." He's thrown 107 pitches. We'll see if he comes out for the eighth.
J.P. Howell is warming for the Rays.
NAVARRO STILL PESKY, MASTERSON AND OKAJIMA UP (8:54 P.M.)
Lester has now thrown 100 pitches, and Navarro struck again on the 100th. He worked another full count, fouled off a pitch and knocked the seventh pitch of the at-bat through the left side for a single. Justin Masterson and Hideki Okajima are throwing in the Sox bullpen. We're in the top of the seventh. Lester came back and struck out Bartlett on four pitches, his ninth K of the evening.
STRIKE 'EM OUT, THROW 'EM OUT (8:48 P.M.)
Kevin Youkilis walked with one out, and Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey visited Jackson. On the ropes, Jackson worked a full count to Bay. Youkilis ran with the payoff pitch, and when Bay swung through a slider, Navarro nailed Youkilis at second base. The sixth is now over.
LESTER OWNING BALDELLI (8:38 P.M.)
With Iwamura on third and Upton on first and two outs in the sixth, Lester struck Baldelli out for the third time this game in three at-bats. He got him with a 79-mph curveball in the dirt, a nearly identical pitch to the one he got Baldelli to flail at in the second inning. Still 3-0, Sox coming to bat in the sixth.
(EDIT: As an astute reader pointed out, Upton had left the game and it was Ben Zobrist on first. That's what I get for not updated my scorecard when injuries happen. On that note, Fernando Perez is now in center, and Zobrist is in left.)
CRISP OUT OF HIS MIND (8:31 P.M.)
Prepare yourself for this, but Coco Crips is not batting .289. He just roped another single to lift his average to its highest mark since May 23. He was batting .246 on Aug. 17, and he has hit an even .500 since then in 54 at-bats.
He may be even hotter than Pedroia, who lined to center and narrowly missed driving in Crisp. Instead, the inning ended. The good news about that is, the sellout is official, and the Red Sox now own the longest consecutive sellout in the history of baseball. It's still 3-0, now with one out in the top of the sixth and on.
SMALL BUMP, STILL NO RUNS (8:16 P.M.)
Dioneer Navarro gave Lester his toughest at-bat of the night, forcing a walk on eight pitches, and Jason Bartlett followed by belting the hardest hit ball of the night off Lester, a liner to left-center for a single. Up came Gabe Gross, who broke his bat on the third pitch Lester threw him and softly bounced to Youkilis, who tossed to a covering Lester. It's 3-0 through 4 1/2.
LESTER PLOWING THROUGH (8:05 P.M.)
The Rays have still senting only the minimum to the plate, and Lester is only getting stronger. He's thrown 50 pitches through four innings, 30 for strikes, and struck out four. His most recent victim was Carlos Pena to end the fourth. Five outs have come on groundballs, three on fly balls.
Jackson has calmed, too, and he just got Mike Lowell to ground into a double play, followed by sending Jed Lowrie back to the dugout after looking at strike three. Still 3-0, through four.
DOUBLING UP AGAIN (7:47 P.M.)
Lester allowed his first hit of the game, a roller up the middle that Pedroia narrowly missed, but again faced the minimum. He struck out Gabe Gross, then induced Fernando Bryant to roll into a 6-4-3 double play. Pedroia just popped up to start the bottom of the third.
CRISP STAYS HOT, JACKSON SETTLES DOWN (7:39 P.M.)
Jackson escaped the second with minimal in part because he struck out Jason Varitek with a 97-mph fastball, but not before Coco Crisp delivered yet another hit, a rope to center. He is now on a 10-game hitting streak and is 26 for 53 (.491) since Aug. 17. Crisp also stole second, but Jackson struck out Kotsay on another 97-mph heater. Still 3-0 after two.
FAST INNING FOR LESTER (7:33 P.M.)
The Rays again sent the minimum to the plate in the second. Lester struck out Rocco Baldelli and Dioneer Navarro, both on really sharp low curveballs. He's thrown only 60 percent of his pitches for strikes, but has needed just 25 pitches to cruise through two.
BOSTON POURS IT ON
Youkilis nearly beheaded Jackson with a line drive back through box. It looked Jackson got his glove on the ball just enough to slow it down, which allowed Ortiz to lumber home from second. Youkilis was thrown out in a run down after Upton's throw was cut off. So at least the Rays saved one run -- Jason Bay destoryed a Jackson offering, the ball slamming off the light tower above the Wall in center field.
Boston leads, 3-0, after one. If this keeps up, will the storyline become how the Rays aren't handling the pressure, or how scary the Red Sox look at the moment?
"Three in the bottom of the first," says Tony Mazz, who's sitting next to me in Row 2 of the press box. "Talk about hitting them with a haymaker."
RED SOX STRIKE EARLY
Edwin Jackson issued Mark Kotsay a five-pitch walk to start the bottom of first, and the Sox, unlike the Rays, capitalized. immediatley. After Dustin Pedroia lined to second, David Ortiz smacked a fastball right down the chute high off the Monster toward center field, and Kotsay raced around to score.
The Ortiz double could have been predicted. He is now 6 for 12 against Jackson with a home run and the double that gave the Red Sox a quick lead. Kevin Youkilis is now batting.
THAT WAS QUICK
On the very next pitch, B.J. Upton squared to bunt and popped up. Lester scampered a few steps, snagged the ball threw to first to double-up Iwamura. Carlos Pena rolled a grounder to second base to end the inning, rendering the always-dangerous lead-off walk totally meaningless.
Jon Lester fired a fastball on the outside part of the plate past the looking Akinori Iwamura for strike one, then lost him to a walk with four straight balls. The most important series in the history of the Tampa Bay Rays is underway.