ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Jon Lester pitched seven strong innings and Victor Martinez homered twice off All-Star David Price, helping the Boston Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 Friday night to tighten the AL wild-card race.
Lester (14-8) rebounded from the worst outing of his career to win for the third time in four starts. The lefthander walked five and uncorked three wild pitches, but also struck out 10 while limiting the Rays to two hits and an unearned run.
Martinez hit two-out solo homers off Price (15-6) in the first and seventh. David Ortiz doubled and scored on Jed Lowrie’s two-out single off the left-hander to give the Red Sox a 2-0 lead in the fourth.
Tampa Bay began the night tied with the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East. Third-place Boston trimmed its deficit in the wild-card race to 4½ games, with Jonathan Papelbon pitching the ninth to finish a combined three-hitter and earn his 33rd save in 39 opportunities.
Lester allowed nine runs in two innings of a 16-2 loss to Toronto at Fenway Park last Friday. Despite the wildness that helped the Rays score their only run, the lefthander retained control of the game by holding the division co-leaders to singles by Carlos Pena in the fourth and Jason Bartlett in the sixth.
Center fielder Darnell McDonald preserved a 2-1 lead, hustling in to field Bartlett’s single and throwing out B.J. Upton, who was trying to score the tying run from second base. Bartlett also had Tampa Bay’s third hit, a single off reliever Daniel Bard with two outs in the eighth.
The Rays got plenty of help to score their run, benefiting from an error and two wild pitches bunched around Pena’s single.
Lester had thrown one wild pitch in 25 starts before unleashing them on consecutive pitches to allow Bartlett, who had reached on shortstop Marco Scutaro’s throwing error, to cross the plate.
Price, who struck out eight and walked none, tied a career high by allowing 10 hits in seven innings. The switch-hitting Martinez has been tough on the young left-hander, going 5 for 12 with three homers lifetime.
NOTES: Tampa Bay played without All-Star left fielder Carl Crawford, who was scratched from the lineup because of a stomach virus. … The Rays signed former Colorado OF Brad Hawpe to a minor league contract. He will be assigned to Class-A Charlotte and could join the major league roster as soon as Tuesday. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said Hawpe primarily will be used as a designated hitter. He was an All-Star last season, but was hitting .255 with seven homers and 37 RBIs in 88 games before the Rockies released him. …. Rays righthanded reliever Grant Balfour (intercostal strain) expects to pitch for Class-A Charlotte on Saturday and Monday.