ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox didn't take any chances.
With a seemingly comfortable lead slipping away in the eighth inning Tuesday night, manager Terry Francona asked Jonathan Papelbon to work overtime to finish off an 8-4 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays.
"The way the inning was unfolding, it looked like the game was going to be won or lost in the eighth," Francona said after his closer bailed the AL wild-card leaders out of a jam and then pitched a perfect ninth for his 33rd save.
"He got out of it with no runs, which is kind of hard to do. He felt good enough to go back out and have a crisp ninth. So, it worked out about as well as it could."
Papelbon entered with two runs in and the bases loaded with no outs and shut down the AL champions with help from a diving catch by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who snared Jason Bartlett's sinking liner before scrambling to his feet to keep a runner from tagging up at third.
"That," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "is a do-or-die play."
"Those are pressure situations. The guy that's the coolest will come out on top," Papelbon said. "You get into situations like that, it boils down to focus. It's a focus thing."
The victory was the 11th in 14 games for Boston, which got a rare triumph at Tropicana Field to drop Tampa Bay a season-high six games behind the wild-card leaders.
Just as discouraging for the Rays, who also trail Texas in the wild-card standings, was the announced crowd of 17,692 -- less than half the capacity at Tropicana Field and 11,755 fewer than the teams averaged for six previous meetings in the domed stadium this season.
The Red Sox, who lost to the Rays in a seven-game AL championship series last year, remained 6½ games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the AL East.
The Rays vowed to battle back.
"I'm not frustrated at all," Maddon said, adding that he could not fault his team's effort.
"They beat us. We made some mistakes. It happens," he said. "What's that game time -- 7:08 tomorrow night? We'll show up. I promise you."
Jon Lester (11-7) allowed two runs and seven hits, walked one and struck out nine in six innings. He gave up an RBI single and solo home run to Carlos Pena, who hit his AL-leading 39th leading off the fourth.
Francona said Lester left with tightness in his groin, but the manager didn't think it was serious.
Bay hit his 30th home run, a solo shot in the fourth off Andy Sonnanstine (6-8), who returned from a two-month stint in the minor leagues to -- at least for the moment -- fill the opening in Tampa Bay's rotation created by the trade that sent Scott Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels.
Drew hit a two-run homer off the Rays starter in the fourth. Youkilis had a sacrifice fly off Sonnanstine and hit his 23rd home run off Dan Wheeler to increase Boston's lead to 7-2 in the eighth.
Billy Wagner pitched a perfect seventh in his second appearance for the Red Sox since being acquired from the New York Mets last week, but the Rays made it interesting in the eighth against Hideki Okajima.
All five batters Okajima faced reached base, with Pat Burrell and Dioner Navarro delivering RBI singles to trim Tampa Bay's deficit to 7-4. Francona then turned to Papelbon an inning earlier than usual.
Boston won for only the second time in seven games at Tropicana Field this year. The Red Sox are 3-13 in the Rays' ballpark during the past two regular seasons.
Sonnanstine made his first big league start since beating Philadelphia on June 25. He had the highest ERA (6.61) in the majors when he was demoted to the minors two days later, and was 1-7 with an 8.22 ERA in nine road starts.
The right-hander had been much sharper at home (5-0, 4.54 ERA) before Tuesday night, although a pair of fielding errors -- one by second baseman Akinori Iwamura, and the other by first baseman Pena -- set up a pair of Boston runs.
"It's a tough game. Errors are going to happen," Sonnanstine said. "I need to do a little bit better job of stopping the floodgates from opening."
- Ellsbury's RBI triple in the ninth made it 8-4.
- Lester struck out the side in the second, hiking his season total to 191 -- a record for a Red Sox left-hander. He finished with 196. Bruce Hurst fanned 190 for Boston in 1987.
- Bay reached 30 home runs for the fourth time.
- Pena has four home runs in 26 career at-bats against Lester.