SOX WIN (10:55, END 9, 8-4 SOX)
Zobrist lined a missile at Youkilis, who snared the first out. Papelbon struck out Longoria looking, then struck out Pena on three pitches. He closed out the first two-inning save of the season, shutting down a bases-loaded threat in the eighth and retiring the Rays in order in the ninth.
The Red Sox delivered a significant blow to the Rays' wild card chances by winning for the third time in their last 16 games at Tropicana Field. The Rays dropped to six games behind. In Texas, the Rangers appear on their way to a doubleheader sweep of the Blue Jays, which would allow them to creep to within 3 1/2 games of the Sox.
J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell paced the Red Sox offense, Drew with a two-run home run that put them ahead for good and Lowell with two hits, a walk, and a sacrifice fly. Jon Lester delivered six strong innings, striking out nine and setting a new Red Sox team record for strike outs in one season by a lefthander. Jacoby Ellsbury helped preserve the win with a sliding catch in the ninth and, earlier in the game, a stretched-out diving catch that ranks among his all-time best.
ELLSBURY PROVIDES INSURANCE (10:47, MID 9, 8-4 SOX)
Ellsbury greeted Howell with a line drive into the right-centerfield gap, a laser that he turned into a triple. Gonzalez scored. Pedroia ended the inning with a chopper to the left side.
After Gonzalez crossed home plate, Takashi Saito began warming in the bullpen. Bard is also throwing again. But Papelbon will begin the inning. Zobrist is due to lead off.
CRAZY EIGHT (10:42, TOP 9, 7-4 SOX)
Gonzalez flared a single to right. With Ellsbury coming up, Maddon called on his eighth pitcher of the night. Lefthander J.P. Howell replaces Balfour.
Papelbon's career numbers with the bases loaded: 3 for 35, 18 Ks, one home run, two walks.
PAPELBON WITH BASES LOADED (10:38, TOP 9, 7-4 SOX)
This season, when the bases are loaded opponents are 1 for 15 against Papelbon with 10 strike outs.
Lowell struck out, and Drew flied to center against Balfour. Two outs, Gonzalez batting. No action for now in the Red Sox bullpen.
PAPELBON COMES THROUGH (10:33, END 8, 7-4)
Papelbon bailed out the Red Sox after a nine-pitch at-bat by Crawford. Crawford foul-tipped a 1-2 fastball, but Martinez could not squeeze the ball. He looked at a ball outside and fouled away another fastball. Papelbon fired another outside fastball, and Crawford fell over in the batter's box trying to check his swing, which third base umpire Paul Schriber ruled he did. Gabe Kapler came on to pinch run at first with the count 3-2. Martinez visited Papelbon. The crowd roared, the runner's took off with the pitch. Crawford restarted everything with another foul.
Finally, on the second 3-2 pitch, Crawford down the left field line. Jason Bay scampered over and made the catch in foul ground. Papelbon walked off the field, slow and scowling. He threw 18 pitches in the inning, so it's possible Bard will be asked to close it out.
Grant Balfour is in the game. He will pitch to Mike Lowell. Gregg Zaun is the new catcher. Gross is in right. Zobrist moved to second. Kapler is out of the game.
ELLSBURY SAVES HIT (10:25, BOT 8, 7-4 SOX)
Ellsbury made his second diving catch of the night to save at least one run. Bartlett lined a 2-2 pitch to center. Ellsbury charged and made a sliding catch. Burrell did not tag, and he remained on third base. Papelbon coming up big so far.
ONE DOWN (10:21, BOT 8, 7-4 SOX)
Papelbon struck out Upton on four pitches. He swung way late on a 94-mph high fastball.
ANOTHER BLOOP, RAYS CUT LEAD (10:15, BOT 8, 7-4 SOX)
With some bad luck, this inning unraveled quickly for the Sox. Okajima faced five batters and did not record an out, and Francona is calling on Papelbon for what would be his first six-out save of the season. Okajima gave up four singles and a walk, and only one of those singles was hit hard.
Navarro blooped a single over Pedroia's head, a nearly identical hit to Aybar's. Papelbon enters with the bases still loaded and Upton, who is 0 for 3 with two strike outs, coming up. He's a threat to hit a home run despite his dismal numbers today and for the season. Papelbon has been great this season with the bases loaded. He'll need to continue that in a game far closer than it ever seemed it would get.
RAYS LOAD BASES (10:14, BOT 8, 7-3 SOX)
Navarro is coming to the plate as the tying run after Aybar squibbed a bloop single into shallow right. Gabe Gross will pinch run for Aybar. Francona is sticking with Okajima.
RAYS COMING BACK? (10:11, BOT 8, 7-3 SOX)
Tampa Bay is showing some signs of life. Longoria reached on an infield single, Pena walked, and Burrell lined a single to left-center, scoring Longoria. Farrell is out to chat with Okajima with Bard and Papelbon ready to go. The Rays have cut the lead to four with two on and no outs. Willy Aybar is pinch hitting.
OKAJIMA ENTERS (10:00, TOP 8, 7-2 SOX)
Francona will use his other lefty out of the bullpen in the eighth. On comes Hideki Okajima, with both Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon active in the bullpen.
RUDE GREETING (9:55, TOP 8, 7-2 SOX)
On the third pitch Wheeler threw, Youkilis lasered a 1-1 fastball over the fence in left-center, putting the Sox up five.
RAYS CHANGE PITCHERS (9:52, TOP 8, 6-2 SOX)
The sixth Rays pitcher of the night will be Dan Wheeler. He replaces Choate after Martinez led off with a pop up to second.
They announced the attendance here -- it's a scant 17,692. Horrible job by the Rays and their fans in one of their biggest games of the season.
WAGNER IMPRESSIVE (9:47, END 7, 6-2 SOX)
Quite a performance by Wagner. He retired the Rays in order using 13 pitches while striking out two. All of his fastballs zipped at 93 or 94 miles per hour.
Bartlett stung a line drive down the third base line on a 94-mph fastball, and Lowell made a lunging, backhand catch. Wagner made Crawford look terrible as he struck out swinging at an 83-mph slider down and away. It was the kind of pitch the Red Sox brought Wagner here to throw to lefties. Wagner struck out Zobrist swinging at a letter-high, 94-mph fastball.
WAGNER ENTERS (9:41, MID 7, 6-2 SOX)
After a 1-2-3 Sox inning in which Ellsbury and Pedroia struck out, Wagner will make his second appearance with the Red Sox. Due up are Bartlett, Crawford, and Zobrist.
LESTER CRUISING (9:34, END 6, 6-2 SOX)
Lester struck out Burrell swinging at a filthy, 74-mph curve in the dirt to lead off the inning. Iwamura grounded out to second. Navarro walked. Upton flied to left.
Lester, who has thrown 97 pitches, may or may not have one inning left. Billy Wagner and Ramon Ramirez were both warming in the bullpen. Wagner made his Red Sox debut Sunday.
Lester is one strike out away from reaching double-digit strike outs for the seventh time this season. His career high is 12, which he reached May 31 at Toronto. Lester struck out double-digit batters only once in his career before this season, back in 2006.
LESTER OUT FOR THE SIXTH (9:23, MID 6, 6-2 SOX)
Drew grounded to second to end the sixth. Lester, having thrown 74 pitches, is out for the sixth inning. Of the Sox' six runs tonight, three are unearned.
SOX EXTEND LEAD (9:18, TOP 6, 6-2 SOX)
Lowell flied out to right-center, just deep enough to score Youkilis from third. Maddon went deeper into his bullpen, pulling Bradford after one batter in favor of Randy Choate. Drew will bat with men on first and second and two outs.
ANOTHER MISTAKE, ANOTHER PITCHER (9:12, TOP 6, 5-2 SOX)
Chad Bradford is entering the game with the bases loaded, one out, and Lowell at the plate. Martinez flared a single into right. Youkilis reached on a fielder's choice, narrowly missing a double play. Ortiz flied to left, where Crawford made a long to get to the ball, and then dropped it. In perhaps their most important game of the season, the Rays continued to shoot themselves in the foot. They have three errors. Bay walked to load the bases.
LESTER MOWING THEM DOWN (9:00, END 5, 5-2 SOX)
Chalk up another two strikeouts for Lester, who has eight for the day after getting Crawford and Zobrist swinging at fastballs.
The Rays actually sent the tying run to the plate. Bartlett led off with a single to right, and Longoria sent a two-out single up the middle. Pitching coach John Farrell came out to talk with Lester with Pena, who already had a home run and two RBIs, settling in at the plate. Pena fouled off two pitches to get down, 0-2. After looking at a ball, Pena grounded to first to end the inning.
STRANGE PLAY (8:44, TOP 5, 5-2 SOX)
Drew walked. Gonzalez reached on an odd fielder's choice that could have been a triple play. He lined a ball down the thrid base line, which Longoria knocked down. He picked up the ball, stepped on third, and fired across the diamond. On first, Drew paused, unsure if Longoria had snared the ball in the air. Pena, though, could not scoop Longoria's low throw, allowing Gonzalez to jog into first. Had Pena made the play, he could have got Drew into a pickle for a potential triple play.
Anyway, Ellsbury flied to left for the second out, and Maddon has elected to replace Shouse with Lance Cormier, a righty, to face Pedroia.
BOMB FOR BAY (8:36, TOP 5, 5-2 SOX)
Bay returned the favor with a leadoff home run of his home. He stayed back on a 1-2, 75-mph curve from Sonnanstine and hooked it over the fence in left.
Lowell followed with a double, the eighth Red Sox hit of the night and his third. That's it for Sonnanstine. Lefthander Brian Shouse is on to pitch to Drew, who homered in his last at-bat.
Lowell's batting average is up to .305, the highest it has been since May 31, when Lowell was batting .308.
LESTER REGAINS FORM (8:32, END 4, 4-2 SOX)
Lester allowed a two-out single to Navarro, but he struck out two more to get out of the inning. Iwamura foul-tipped a fastball into Martinez's mitt, and Upton struck out swinging at a 96-mph fastball down the middle.
ONE PITCH, ONE RUN (8:27, BOT 4, 4-2 SOX)
Lester's dominant run came to an end on the first pitch of the fourth. Carlos Pena crushed a solo home run to center on an 93-mph fastball. It was Pena's league-leading 39th home run of the season.
Burrell followed with a line drive to left-center that seemed destined for the gap. Ellsbury made an unreal diving catch, fully stretched out when he landed on the turf.
SOX ADD ONE (8:23, MID 4, 4-1 SOX)
They didn't put away the Rays, but they gave Lester plenty of cushion. Youkilis lifted a fly ball foul to right, toward the exposed bullpen. Zobrist raced over, made the catch, and fired a bullet home. The strong throw pulled Navarro up the line. Ellsbury zig-zagged around Navarro and dove at the plate, wiping his left arm over it to score the Sox' fourth run. Great play by Zobrist, but a better move by Ellsbury. Ortiz ended the inning with a fly out to the warning track in right.
FULLY LOADED (8:19, TOP 4, 3-1 SOX)
With one out, the Sox are threatening to put away the game. Pedroia walked and Martinez shot a single to left to load the bases for Youkilis.
LOWELL, DREW STAY HOT (8:12, TOP 4, 3-1 SOX)
Things are going good when your hottest hitters are batting seven and eight. Lowell led off with a double off the top of the fence in left, and Drew followed with a line-drive home run to right. Drew has seven home runs since Aug. 14. Lowell, 2 for 2 tonight, entered with a 1.035 OPS since Aug. 11.
Gonzalez flied out, and Ellsbury reached when Pena botched a chopper to first.
NICE AND EASY (8:05, END 3, 1-1)
Lester gave up a two-out single through the box to Zobrist, but three quick outs made it moot. After his three Ks in the second inning, Lester has 191 strike outs for the season, surpassing Bruce Hurst's club record of 190 by a lefthander.
IN THE ZONE? (8:00, MID 3, 1-1)
Sonnanstine twirled an offspeed pitch over the chalk of the batter's box, and home plate umpire Paul Nauert gave Sonnanstine the called third strike. Youkilis was indignant. It was a bad call, but Nauert has been generous on the corners all night. Ortiz followed by ripping a single through the shift into right. Bay hit a ball hard to third, but Longoria started an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
STRIKING SUCCESS (7:53, END 2, 1-1)
Lester tore through the Rays in the second by striking out the side in order. Dioner Navarro looked at a curveball, and B.J. Upton looked at a 3-2, 95-mph fastball over the inside corner. Both pitches were borderline, and if Lester continues to get them, it promises to be a long night for the Rays.
LEAVING THEM LOADED (7:45, MID 2, 1-1)
The Sox had a chance to bust this one open. Pedroia walked after an interesting sequence. Sonnanstine knocked him down with a fastball at his head, and the very next pitch, he threw a nearly identical pitch; Pedroia had to duck away but did not fall to the ground. On the next pitch, he took ball four to load the bases for Martinez, who quickly put himself a 2-1 count. Martinez, who owns the highest active average against the Rays among players with at least at .378, fouled off one pitch and then chopped to second to end the threat.
SOX TIE IT UP (7:40, TOP 2, 1-1)
As the Rays did to them, the Sox took advantage of a mistake to score a run. To start the inning, Jason Bay flied to left. Lowell walked. J.D. Drew gave the Rays a chance to get out of the inning with a tailor-made double play ball to Akinori Iwamura at second, but Iwamura bobbled the ball, allowing both Lowell and Drew to cruise safely into second and first. Gonzalez popped to short, and then Ellsbury came through. He squibbed a soft liner off the end of the bat, but he put enough on it to serve the blooper into shallow left, over the glove of a leaping Longoria. Pedroia is batting with two on and two out.
ERROR HAUNTS LESTER (7:31, END 1, 1-0 RAYS)
The Rays took an early lead when Carlos Pena roped a single into right-center, scoring Crawford with two outs. Lester struck Longoria with a backdoor breaking ball, but he could not get out of the inning unscathed. Mike Lowell ended the inning with a great play, making a backhand stab on a ball down the line, leaping, and making a one-hop throw across the diamond to nab Pat Burrell.
To clarify, Crawford was awarded an infield single, and he went to second on Gonzalez's throw, which is where the error came in.
RARE ERROR FOR GONZALEZ (7:24, BOT 1, 0-0)
Alex Gonzalez did not make an error in his first 15 games with the Red Sox, a span of 60 flawless chances. That changed when Carl Crawford rolled a slow grounder his way. He charged and made a quick transfer, but his rushed through sailed about 10 feet to Kevin Youkilis's left and bounded into the Tampa dugout. Crawford wound up on second, and then Jon Lester walked Ben Zobrist. Two on for Sox killer Evan Longoria.
ORTIZ CAUGHT LOOKING (7:20, MID 1, 0-0)
The Red Sox started a small two-out rally after Jacoby Ellsbury grounded to second and Dustin Pedroia popped to short. Victor Martinez walked, and Kevin Youkilis singled to left. Andy Sonnanstine, making his first start since being recalled from Triple A Durham and replacing the traded Scott Kazmir, struck out David Ortiz looking at a 1-2 fastball low and away. Ortiz briefly argued with the home plate umpire, to no avail.
Jon Lester induced a fly to left from Jason Bartlett to begin the Rays' half of the inning.