ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Boston Red Sox are happy with their post All-Star game start.
Josh Beckett overcame early struggles to pitch six effective innings, Will Middlebrooks drove in a pair during a tiebreaking three-run fifth, and the Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays 7-3 on Sunday.
Boston took two of three from the Rays after dropping six of seven before the All-Star break.
“We’ve got to win series now,” Beckett said of the Red Sox, who are 45-44.
Beckett (5-7) allowed three runs — all in the first — and eight hits. The right-hander, 5-0 over his past eight games against Tampa Bay, struck out seven and walked two in stopping a personal six-start winless streak.
“He’s battling this flu a little, and I think he just had to get his feet on the ground a little,” Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. “But he did one heck of a job, putting those goose eggs up. He’s a great competitor. He wasn’t going to let that game get away him.”
Boston went ahead 6-3 during the fifth when Daniel Nava homered and Middlebrooks had a two-run single off James Shields (8-6), who has allowed double-digits hits in four consecutive starts.
“We need to get some momentum going in this second half,” Middlebrooks said.
Boston closer Alfredo Aceves, in a non-save situation, loaded the bases on three walks in the ninth, but retired Hideki Matsui on a high fly to right to end it.
Shields lasted just five innings, giving up six runs and 11 hits. He is 3-6 over his past 12 games.
“I’m just not making my pitches,” Shields said. “That’s all. I’ve got to do a better job of making my pitches. Of course it’s frustrating. I’m not doing my job right now. The bottom line is I’ve got to get better.”
Cody Ross made it 7-3 on a sixth-inning sacrifice fly.
“I like the way we’re coming together,” Valentine said.
Adrian Gonzalez put the Red Sox up 1-0 on a first-inning RBI single. Mike Aviles’ two-run homer tied it at 3 in the second.
Ben Zobrist had a run-scoring infield single that went off Beckett’s glove, and Desmond Jennings hit a two-run single during the bottom of the first.
The Red Sox return home Monday night for a four-game series against Kevin Youkilis and the Chicago White Sox. Youkilis was traded from Boston to the White Sox last month.
Valentine questioned Youkilis’ commitment to the game during a television interview early in the season and later apologized to him a day later.
“I think the comment that I made early, he made a big issue out of and I don’t think he wanted to get over it,” Valentine said.
On Saturday night, Clay Buchholz’s return from the disabled list for Boston could not slow down Tampa’s David Price.
Price outpitched Buchholz and the Tampa Bay Rays scored twice in the seventh inning without getting a hit to rally for a 5-3 victory.
“A tough guy to hit,” Buchholz said of Price. “He’s going to throw fastballs, and they’re sinking and cutting. Whenever we get a lead on these guys, I need to find a way to keep runners from the base paths. Not give them free outs like we did tonight.”
Price (12-4) allowed three runs and six hits in 7 1-3 innings to become the first 12-game winner in the American League. The All-Star left-hander walked two and struck out eight to move ahead of Matt Harrison for the AL wins lead.
Buchholz (8-3) pitched well in his first start in more than three weeks, taking a 3-2 lead into the seventh before walking the first batter of inning and hitting the next. Hideki Matsui was walked intentionally to load the bases with one out, and the Rays pulled even when pinch-hitter Jose Lobaton drew a walk from Matt Albers.
Elliot Johnson’s sacrifice fly gave Tampa Bay a 4-3 lead, and B.J. Upton’s solo homer off Andrew Miller provided a two-run cushion in the eighth.
“We had a lead,” Valentine said. “Three walks and a (hit) batter, and a sac fly, it kind of hurts. Kind of frustrating all the way around.”
Joel Peralta got the final two outs of the eighth for the Rays. All-Star Fernando Rodney worked the ninth for his 26th save in 27 opportunities.
Middlebrooks hit a two-run homer off Price in the fourth. The Tampa Bay starter’s errant pickoff throw to third base allowed the Red Sox to take a 3-2 lead in the sixth.
Buchholz was activated from the disabled list before the game and made his first start since working six innings in a 7-5 win over Miami on June 19. He was placed on the DL with what the Red Sox described as a stomach illness, and the team later announced that he had esophagitis, which led to the erosion of his esophagus and internal bleeding.
“I felt good,” Buchholz said. “I felt rested, and I think that was the biggest thing.”
Price pitched one scoreless inning in Tuesday’s All-Star game in Kansas City, throwing seven pitches. He limited Boston to Mike Aviles’ second-inning single until David Ortiz singled with one out and scored ahead of Middlebrooks when the third baseman hit an 0-2, two-out pitch over the left-center field wall for his 11th homer of the season.
“We continue to play well on my day (to pitch),” Price said.
The Red Sox loaded the bases on a walk and two singles in the fifth, but didn’t score when Pedro Ciriaco flied to right fielder Zobrist, who made a perfect throw to the plate to catch Kelly Shoppach trying to score from third base.
Boston snapped a 2-2 tie in the sixth without getting a hit. Cody Ross drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on a passed ball and took third on Middlebrooks’ grounder to second. Ross trotted home for a 3-2 lead when Price threw high over third baseman Jeff Keppinger’s head for an error on the attempted pickoff.