Venue: Fenway Park
The Tampa Bay Rays came out on top in the AL East last season and used home-field advantage in the league championship series to knock off the Boston Red Sox for their first pennant.
About a year later, the Red Sox are looking to take advantage of the reeling Rays as they make a push for the postseason.
Boston tries to pad its wild-card lead Friday night when they open a three-game home series with the Rays, who have played themselves out of the race over the last week.
Tampa Bay won the division by two games over Boston in 2008, then clinched a trip to the World Series with a home victory over the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS.
The Red Sox (81-58) will likely miss out on the AL East title again this season, but they're in far better position than the Rays (72-68), who have dropped eight straight to fall from contention.
Boston kept its wild-card lead over Texas at two games with a 7-5 win over Baltimore on Wednesday night. Victor Martinez came off the bench and hit a three-run double to break a seventh-inning tie.
Martinez, acquired from Cleveland at the trade deadline, is 2 for 2 with four RBIs as a pinch-hitter with Boston.
"I think he enjoys that situation, for sure," manager Terry Francona said. "I think he'd rather have been starting, but it's nice on nights that he hasn't started, that he's sitting there ready to hit."
Martinez is batting .326 with six homers, 28 RBIs and 19 runs in 36 games with his new club, and .357 with 10 RBIs during a 12-game hitting streak.
"Every time I come to the plate, my goal is to be a tough out," said Martinez, who said he's enjoying being in the playoff hunt while the Indians struggle. "When you're in a race, it's always interesting. When you get to the ballpark, you know you're playing for something."
The Rays don't appear to have that motivation anymore after falling 9 1/2 games back of the Red Sox during their longest skid since July 2007.
Tampa Bay lost 4-2 at division-leading New York on Wednesday night, its fourth consecutive game with two runs or fewer.
"We have to score more runs," manager Joe Maddon told the Rays' official Web site. "We're putting so much pressure on the end of the game where we're just not picking up enough of a lead where you can have some kind of cushion."
Despite their recent struggles, the Rays have taken nine of 15 from the Red Sox in 2009. The teams have split six games at Fenway Park.
Boston will hand the ball to Jon Lester (12-7, 3.44 ERA) for the opener. The left-hander held Chicago to four hits in seven scoreless innings of a 6-1 victory Sunday.
In his first two seasons, Lester was 4-0 with a 3.38 ERA in seven starts against Tampa Bay - all Boston wins. He posted a 12.54 ERA while losing his first two starts versus the Rays this year, but rebounded with a 2.25 ERA in his last two, striking out 19 over 12 innings.
Tampa Bay will counter with James Shields (9-10, 4.02), coming off one of his worst outings of the year. The right-hander gave up six runs in 6 1-3 innings against Detroit on Saturday, and didn't get a decision in an 8-6 defeat.
Shields has gone 3-6 with a 5.40 ERA in 11 starts versus Boston, and 1-2 with a 5.79 ERA this season. Martinez is 3 for 9 with a double in his career against Shields, while teammate J.D. Drew has batted .391 with two homers and four doubles against him.
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