A message from both teams: Don't be deceived by the Rays' recent slide.
"Obviously, they're still in first place and everybody knows why," Coco Crisp said after Boston's 3-0 win Monday night, "because they have a good team."
A good team that, for two straight games, hasn't scored a single run. A team that has seen five games shaved from its AL East lead in eight days and is clinging to a meager half-game edge going into Tuesday night's second game of the three-game series.
A team that looks more like the one that finished in last place in nine of its past 10 seasons than the one that has led its division since the All-Star break. And the Rays have just three weeks left in the regular season to hold off the more experienced Red Sox.
"We've just run into a little bit of a snag hitting-wise and when you don't hit, all of a sudden everybody wants to magnify the negativity about it," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We're playing well right now. We're just not hitting."
After losing to Toronto 1-0 on Sunday, the Rays ran into a strong pitching performance by Jon Lester (13-4).
The lefty pitched into the eighth inning, Jason Bay homered in a three-run first and the Red Sox won their sixth in seven games. The Rays have lost four straight and six of seven.
"Whether we've closed the gap or not, just the way we've been playing, trying to distance ourselves in the wild card and still ultimately win the East" is important, Bay said. "Once you get that ball rolling, you get that momentum, it's a little bit easier to keep it rolling."
Playing before their 456th straight regular-season home sellout crowd, a new major league record, the Red Sox improved to 7-0 at Fenway Park against the Rays. But they're 0-6 at Tampa Bay, where the teams open a three-game series next Monday.
Lester matched his season high with nine strikeouts, accomplished in his no-hitter against Kansas City on May 19. He allowed six hits and three walks in 7 2/3 innings.
"It was a good atmosphere tonight in the ballpark. It almost felt like we were in the playoffs," he said.
With two outs in the eighth, Lester gave up a single to Ben Zobrist and a ground-rule double to Carlos Pena, putting runners at second and third. Jonathan Papelbon came in and struck out Rocco Baldelli, who fanned in all four at-bats.
Papelbon finished up for his 36th save in 40 opportunities as the Red Sox completed their major league-best 14th shutout.
"We've had so many games where people have come through at the right time," Baldelli said. "We just haven't lately."
Lester outpitched Edwin Jackson (11-10), who settled down after the three-run first and finished with six strikeouts while giving up eight hits and two walks in seven innings. Jackson had won six of seven decisions before his worst start of the season, a 9-3 loss to the New York Yankees last Wednesday in which he allowed six runs in 3 1/3 innings.
"I relaxed after the first inning," Jackson said. "It was just a tough game. You just have to overcome it. Right now we can't afford to get down or frustrated."
Crisp went 3-for-3 and extended his hitting streak to 10 games. He is 21-for-37 in that stretch, improving his batting average from .256 to .291 with his sixth straight multihit game.
"We have outstanding intensity that's pretty much unmatched when we play the Yankees," he said, "but now you throw Tampa in the mix with how well they've been playing, it's very similar to the type of intensity that we would share with the Yankees."
Bay followed with his sixth homer since being traded by Pittsburgh on July 31 and his 28th of the season.
"Home runs happen when you least expect them and that was the last thing on my mind," Bay said. "With a guy that throws hard, I'm just trying to get a good swing on the ball."
Before the game, Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner, president Larry Lucchino and players greeted some of the 37,662 fans who attended the record-breaking sellout. Since the streak began on May 15, 2003, the total attendance at the 456 games is 16,336,192.
The Cleveland Indians set the previous record from June 1995 to April 2001 at Jacobs Field.
- Maddon said 3B Evan Longoria, who came off the disabled list Saturday, might play this week.
- The Red Sox activated right fielder J.D. Drew from the DL after he recovered from a strained lower back and called up catcher George Kottaras and first baseman-outfielder Chris Carter from Triple-A Pawtucket.