ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rays are taking a business-as-usual approach to their position atop the AL East.
Matt Garza pitched seven strong innings in his first outing since throwing a one-hitter, and the Rays beat Boston and nemesis Tim Wakefield 3-1 on Tuesday night to extend their lead in the division to a season-best 2½ games over the second-place Red Sox.
"We go out there against Boston fully expecting to win," reliever Grant Balfour said. "We're not shocked to win a ball game. It's really no surprise to us."
Garza (7-4) allowed an unearned run and five hits, and Dioner Navarro snapped a fourth-inning tie with an RBI single off Wakefield (5-6), whose 19 career victories against Tampa Bay -- nine at Tropicana Field -- are the most by an opposing pitcher.
The Rays have won seven of eight, improving the best record in the major leagues to 51-32. They are 5-0 at home against the Red Sox, who have won all six games the teams have played at Fenway Park this season.
"These guys aren't like they used to be," Wakefield said. "They're pretty good over there."
The Rays have done it with good pitching, improved defense and timely hitting. They have also avoided getting caught in the highs and lows they have experienced during the best start in franchise history.
"It's still a long road, and we have to take it day to day," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said.
Balfour got the last four outs, working out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth and striking out three in the ninth, including Jason Varitek to end the game with the tying run on second base.
The Red Sox, struggling offensively without injured slugger David Ortiz in the middle of the lineup, have lost four straight for the first time since May 11-14.
Tampa Bay's 2 1/2-game lead in the division is its largest of the season, and Boston's deficit is its biggest since they were three back on April 9.
"I don't really care to talk about who we're missing. We showed up to win and they outplayed us," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "That's what matters to us. ... Regardless of who you have out there, you either win or you don't."
Garza was coming off the first complete game of his career, the one-hitter over the Florida Marlins in which he gave up a homer to Hanley Ramirez leading off the seventh inning.
Although the 24-year-old right-hander wasn't as sharp this time, he did retire the first nine batters before Jacoby Ellsbury beat out a dribbler and continued to third when Navarro, the Tampa Bay catcher, picked up the ball and threw wildly past first.
Garza worked out of the jam by getting Drew to pop to first base and Ramirez, who's just 10-for-54 in his last 16 games, to foul out to first to end the inning.
The Red Sox squandered an opportunity in the eighth when they loaded the bases on an error and two walks.
Balfour replaced J.P. Howell with two outs and walked Ramirez to fill the bases, then escaped when Mike Lowell -- who had been 5-for-10 with two homers, two doubles and 18 RBI with the bases loaded this season -- grounded to shortstop.
Balfour earned his second save in as many opportunities. After striking out Kevin Youkilis and Brandon Moss to begin the ninth, he gave up a double to Alex Cora and the fanned Varitek.
"They made what we gave them count," Francona said. "We had very few opportunities, and we couldn't cash in."
The Red Sox stranded eight runners and were 1-for-7 with men in scoring position -- and that hit didn't advance anyone.
Varitek entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth, and was 0-for-2, making him 0-for-his-last-13. He's 3-for-34 in the past 14 games.
"I'll eventually figure it out," Varitek said. "I've just absolutely stunk. There's no two ways around it. I have to find a way."
The loss was the fourth in 23 decisions against Tampa Bay for Wakefield, who is 9-2 lifetime at Tropicana Field. While he only allowed two runs and five hits, he hurt himself with two costly wild pitches.
The Rays scored an unearned run in the first when Carl Crawford raced home on the knuckleballer's wild pitch after shortstop Cora's two-out fielding error kept the inning alive. Another wild pitch led to their second run, with Evan Longoria moving up to second before Navarro's RBI single snapped a 1-all tie in the fourth.
Navarro delivered another run-scoring single to make it 3-1 in the eighth.
- The Rays placed RHP Troy Percival on the 15-day DL after the game. He tweaked his left hamstring in the ninth inning Monday night. It's his second trip to the DL this season with a hamstring problem.
- Ramirez, who has a sore hamstring, was Boston's DH for the second straight game. He'll likely remain there for the series finale.
- Red Sox RHP Bartolo Colon, who's on the DL with a lower back strain, began throwing from 60 feet.