ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Clay Buchholz’s return from the disabled list could not slow down 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 over the Boston Red Sox on Saturday night.
“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,” Boston manager Bobby 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.
Will 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 Ben 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.
Notes: To make room on the roster for Buchholz, the Red Sox optioned INF Mauro Gomez to Triple-A Pawtucket. … Red Sox 1B Adrian Gonzalez (back) missed his second straight game and is considered doubtful for Sunday’s series finale. … Boston OF Ryan Sweeney didn’t play after experiencing left hamstring discomfort Friday night. The problem is not considered serious.