Red Sox 7-4, FINAL: Jonathan Papelbon gets the first two-out save of his career, striking out two in the ninth. The Red Sox increase their lead to six games over the reeling Rays (although the Rangers are about to pick up a half-game with a doubleheader sweep). Josh Beckett can apply the death blow to the Rays Wednesday night against Sox-killer Matt Garza.
10:49 p.m.: Check that: Papelbon is back for the ninth, having thrown 18 pitches. Manny Delcarmen and Daniel Bard are now warming.
Mid 9th, Red Sox 8-4: Jacoby Ellsbury is having a huge night. Two highlight reel catches, and now an RBI triple in the ninth for a much-needed insurance run. Takashi Saito was rushing to get ready in the pen, so the two-inning save for Papelbon might just be a one-inning hold.
End 8th, Red Sox 7-4: Papelbon does the job with 18 pitches, leaving the bases loaded, but he needed some serious help from Jacoby Ellsbury, who makes his second Web Gem of the game, picking Jason Bartlett's sinking liner off the turf and keeping it tucked into the heel of his glove, preventing any runs from scoring for the second out of the inning. If it gets by Ellsbury, we're tied.
10:16 p.m.: Something about Tropicana Field turns Terry Francona into Terry Francoma. Gotta wonder what he's thinking as Okajima gives up three straight hits to right-handed batters while his two right-handed relievers are standing at the ready in the pen. Okajima allows all five batters he faces to reach (walk, 4 hits) and now it's 7-4, bases loaded and nobody out. Papelbon is coming in for a 6-out save under extreme duress. Francoma, indeed.
10:11 p.m.: Hideki Okajima has decided to make this one interesting, allowing a run on two hits and a walk to start the eighth inning. Technically, this is now a save situation, with the tying run in the on-deck circle in a 7-3 game and nobody out. Jonathan Papelbon is warming, along with Daniel Bard.
Mid 8th, Red Sox 7-2: Kevin Youkilis hits the Red Sox's third homer of the game to spread the lead. The Red Sox have hit multiple homers in a game 21 times over the past 30, which is, of course, insane.
End 7th, Red Sox 6-2: Billy Wagner is the anti-Gagne. Wagner strikes out two more in his second Sox appearance and now his 11 strikeouts in four innings since coming back from Tommy John surgery. This is looking like an absolute coup by Theo Epstein, who's had a great six weeks.
Mid 7th, Red Sox 6-2: Lester is done after six innings, giving way to Billy Wagner, who struck out the side in his first appearance with the Red Sox on Sunday. Lester allows two runs on seven hits and two walks with nine strikeouts.
End 6th, Red Sox 6-2: Lester does not allow a hit in the inning for just the second time tonight, issuing just a two-out walk. He has nine strikeouts, but is up to 97 pitches, meaning he probably has one inning left, at best.
Mid 6th, Red Sox 6-2: For the third time tonight, a Rays error leads to a Red Sox run. With one out, Carl Crawford drops Ortiz's fly to left, which eventually allows Youkilis to score on a Lowell sacrifice fly. The Sox strand two more, but it's looking less and less like it will matter tonight.
End 5th, Red Sox 5-2: The Rays are having their own issues with men on base, stranding 2 of their 6 in the fifth, while Lester racks up two more strikeouts for eight on the night.
Mid 5th, Red Sox 5-2: The Red Sox have a nice lead, but it could be so much more. Through five innings, the Red Sox have stranded nine runners, including two more in the fifth.
8:35 p.m.: Jason Bay hits his 30th homer of the season to make it 5-2. Lowell follows with his second double and that's it for Sonnanstine. The righthander had allowed righties to hit at a .350 clip before his demotion, and they hit .363 off him tonight.
End 4th, Red Sox 4-2: Lester answers the Pena homer with two more strikeouts, giving him six for the game. Despite allowing five hits and a walk, Lester is only at 56 pitches. Sonnanstine is nearly at 90.
8:25 p.m.: Pena makes up for it, hitting Lester's first pitch of the fourth beyond the wall in center to cut the deficit to 4-2. Pat Burrell follows with a gap shot to left-center, but Ellsbury makes a spectacular diving catch for the first out.
Mid 4th, Red Sox 4-1: The Red Sox take advantage of another Rays error to tack on a third run in the fourth. Ellsbury reaches when Carlos Pena kicks his grounder, then eventually scores on a sacrifice fly to right by Youkilis, making a great slide to avoid a tag by Navarro.
8:10 p.m.: J.D. Drew's hot August has reached into September. Drew hits a two-run homer — after Lowell just missed on a double to left — and the Red Sox lead 3-1. Drew is hitting .390 with seven homers in his past 19 games.
End 3rd, 1-1: No strikeouts in the third, but Lester has a trouble-free inning, stranding a two-out single by Ben Zobrist.
Mid 3rd, 1-1: Some terrific defense at the hot corner tonight. Evan Longoria turns a hot-shot grounder by Jason Bay into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning, making a lightning-quick relay to second to get it started.
End 2nd, 1-1: Lester rebounds in big-time fashion in the second inning, striking out the side. Iwamura swinging, Dioner Navarro looking, B.J. Upton looking. Lester is now the all-time single-season strikeout leader by a Red Sox left-hander with 191. Bruce Hurst twice had 190, in 1985 and 1987.
Mid 2nd, 1-1: A Red Sox error in the first led to the Rays run, then the tables are turned in the second. Aki Iwamura, who was thought to be done for the season with a knee injury, is back playing. But he botched a double-play grounder by J.D. Drew that left everyone safe, and that led to a two-out RBI single by Jacoby Ellsbury — just over the leap of Evan Longoria — scoring Lowell from second. The Red Sox loaded the bases with two outs against Sonnanstine, but Martinez grounded out to Iwamura to end the inning.
End 1st, Rays 1-0: Jon Lester is having a rough season against the Rays, and he had a rough first inning, allowing a walk and two hits, including an RBI single by Carlos Pena. But it would have been much worse without a terrific inning-ending play by Mike Lowell.
Lowell gloved a grounder over the third-base bag and wheeled in one motion from foul territory to make the one-hop throw to Kevin Youkilis. Thank goodness the super-slow Pat Burrell was running.
Mid 1st, 0-0: Andy Sonnanstine spent the past two-plus months in the minors, after struggling mightily to a 6-7 record with a 6.61 ERA after 15 starts. Tonight is his first start since his recall, taking the place of the traded Kazmir. He allows two baserunners with two outs, but gets David Ortiz looking to end the inning.
7:15 p.m.: So much for the World Series bounce for the Rays. Tropicana Field appears to be 60 percent empty as the game begins, oblivious to the fact that the Rays postseason life is on the line this series.
As Don Orsillo pointed out, the lack of attendance jump in 2009 likely factored into the decision to trade Scott Kazmir, who was due $20 million over the next two seasons. Just sad to see a franchise that finally has enjoyed success not supported by its fans.
6:40 p.m.: Victor Martinez, who has taken over as Clay Buchholz's catcher, might now be moving into that role with Jon Lester. Martinez will catch Lester for the second start in a row, while Jason Varitek will continue to work with Josh Beckett, who starts Wednesday. Martinez has caught Buchholz's past six starts.
The assumption has to be that Martinez will be the primary postseason catcher, with Varitek only catching Beckett and maybe the No. 4 starter
3:30 p.m.: Is the third time the charm? The Red Sox make their final visit of the season to Tropicana Field tonight, hoping to finally put the Rays out of reach of a playoff berth. In late April, the Red Sox had a chance to inflict serious early damage to a slumping Rays team, only to lose three of four.
A month ago, the Red Sox had another chance to create some distance in the wild-card race, only to get swept in a two-game set.
Now, in this three-game series, the Red Sox lead Tampa Bay by five games with a month to play. The Sox send their three best starters to the mound — Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz — while the Rays, who jettisoned Scott Kazmir to Anaheim over the weekend, counter with Andy Sonnanstine, Matt Garza and David Price, giving this an October feel. For the Rays, who have slumped since the last Sox visit, this is October.
For the Red Sox, who are 14-6 since the six-game losing streak that started at the Trop, this is a chance to make September feel like March: a few pressure-free weeks until the real games begin.
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