ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – The Tampa Bay Rays are on quite a run.
Kevin Kiermaier tripled to key a two-run sixth inning, Tommy Pham homered and the Rays won their seventh straight game by beating the major league-leading Boston Red Sox 5-1 on Saturday night.
“We’ve gotten some confidence, and I think we’ve found our identity,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said.
The surprising Rays will try to become the first team this season to sweep Boston in a series Sunday when the teams complete a three-game set.
“We’ve been good on getaway days and day games,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “It would be a good day to put everything together, finish strong and turn the page in this stadium.”
Tampa Bay is a season-high eight games over .500 (69-61). The Rays have allowed three or fewer runs in seven consecutive games.
J.D. Martinez had two doubles in four at-bats for the Red Sox, who have lost five of seven. Boston (90-41) had its AL East lead sliced to seven games over the New York Yankees, who swept a doubleheader at Baltimore.
“At the end of the day I felt like we lost this game because we didn’t take it to them and they took it to us,” Red Sox starter Rick Porcello said. “That’s not usually the case for our ballclub.”
Martinez (.337) jumped ahead of teammate Mookie Betts (.335) for the best batting average in the majors. Martinez also leads in RBIs (110) and is second in the AL in homers (38).
Betts was hitless in four at-bats and is 6 for 38 (.158) over his last nine games.
Tampa Bay chased Porcello (15-7) in the sixth after Kiermaier tripled and Willy Adames was hit by a pitch. Kiermaier scored on a wild pitch by Ryan Brasier before Joey Wendle made it 3-1 later in the inning on a sacrifice fly.
“That was a huge hit, maybe the biggest one of the night,” Cash said about Kiermaier’s triple.
Pham hit a solo shot off Brandon Workman in the seventh, and Ji-Man Choi’s RBI triple put Tampa Bay up 5-1 in the eighth.
Pham returned after missing three games with a dislocated right ring finger.
“I didn’t think I had enough power to hit a home run,” Pham said. “My grip strength isn’t quite there, but I had enough.”
Porcello gave up three runs and six hits over five-plus innings.
Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough allowed one run and five hits in five-plus innings. Ryne Stanek (2-3) replaced Yarbrough and worked a scoreless inning for the win.
Tampa Bay threatened in four of the first five innings but went 2 for 11 with runners in scoring positions during that stretch. Brandon Lowe had an RBI single in the fourth that tied it 1-all.
Boston scored in the second on Mitch Moreland’s double-play grounder.
Cash visited OF Mallex Smith, who was hospitalized Friday with a viral infection and should be discharged in the next couple of days. “I think he’s going to have a lengthy process, probably, of getting back,” Cash said. “He’s in good spirits. He seemed night and day different from where he was (Friday).”
Red Sox: Cora hasn’t completely ruled out 2B Dustin Pedroia, limited to three games in May following left knee surgery, from playing again this season. “We don’t have anything set as far as timetables, but we’re feeling good with the progress,” Cora said. … LHP Chris Sale (left shoulder inflammation) could resume throwing soon after the team returns home Monday. … LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (sprained right ankle) will make a rehab start Monday with Double-A Portland.
Rays All-Star LHP Blake Snell (15-5) will face Boston RHP and former teammate Nathan Eovaldi (5-5) on Sunday. “He really helped me with my work ethic and led by example,” said Snell, who is 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts against Boston this season. “That’s just him as a player and a person. He’s very special.” Eovaldi is 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA in five starts with Boston since being acquired from the Rays on July 25.
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