Aided by a spectacular catch from Andrew Benintendi, David Price threw eight shutout innings to lead the Red Sox to a series opening win over the Rays and into a tie atop the American League East.
Price's season has had its share of low points, but two of them have certainly come against his former team. A 3.2-inning, 8-run disaster back in April, and six unimpressive innings in late June when the Red Sox were desperate to avoid an embarassing series loss to a Tampa team that had been on a remarkable losing streak before the Sox came to town.
Since that second start, Price has made some decent progress towards turning around his season, and a decent amount of that has come against the Rays. Eight scoreless in Boston back in July, and now eight more in Tampa. It started with three perfect innings, and even when Tampa Bay got a base hit from Logan Forsythe to start the fourth, they saw it vanish when Sandy Leon gunned him down trying to take second.
The Sox had no shortage of baserunners in the first couple few innings, but had most of their opportunities come with two outs, resulting in no runs to speak of. That would change in the top of the fourth, as Hanley Ramirez drew a one-out walk and moved onto second as Sandy Leon found the hole between first and second. It would be the returning Chris Young who ultimately delivered the big hit, doubling down the left field line to bring Ramirez home and move Leon to third, where he would score on a sacrifice fly from Andrew Benintendi.
Despite having picked up a pair of runs and chased Blake Snell, the Sox would leave the bases loaded in that fourth inning. Still, with Price staying locked in, they would build their lead before the Rays could cut into it, tacking on a third run in the seventh on singles from Bogaerts and Ortiz along with a sacrifice fly from Hanley
With his pitch count already quite high, Price would return for the eighth inning looking to deliver the game directly into the hands of Craig Kimbrel (or another reliever should the lead grow). Aiming for some quick outs, Price instead found himself with an early baserunner that wasn't really much of his fault, with Dustin Pedroia failing to properly snag a sharp ground ball that exploded off his glove for a single. With the way Price had been pitching all night, that didn't seem likely to matter, but a 1-0 fastball to Steven Souza Jr. stayed waist-high over the plate, and Souza hammered it. Andrew Benintendi tracked the ball to the wall, and made the sort of last-ditch leap that we see right before so very many home runs fall into the stands. Only this time, when Benintendi's top half re-appeared from beyond the left field wall, he brought the ball with him, leaving Souza raising his arms in disbelief at first.
With Price having dodged that bullet, he retired the next two Rays, finishing with another fly ball to left that didn't ask quite so much from Benintendi to end the eighth and his night. Eight innings, two hits, two walks, eight strikeouts and, most important of all, zero runs, earned or otherwise. Somehow, this only leaves his ERA at 4.00, but it's the sort of start we were expecting from him all along. It's nice that they're starting to come in volume now.
With the lead still completely intact, the Red Sox would really put things away in the top of the ninth. After Dustin Pedroia reached base when Danny Farquhar airmailed a throw to first, Xander Bogaerts golfed a changeup deep to left and out for a two-run shot to make it 5-0. Another few hits from Mookie and Hanley and a ground out from Sandy Leon later, and it was 6-0.
The shutout was not to be, unfortunately. Matt Barnes would surrender a couple of runs in the ninth on a homer to Evan Longoria, because it wouldn't be a Red Sox game without some doom and gloom for the bullpen. Still, a solid win at the end of the day, and one that lifts the Red Sox into a perfect 70-54 tie atop the American League East with the Blue Jays which, after everything that went wrong throughout the middle months of the season, is not a bad place to be.