ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Boston Red Sox concluded their most successful road trip in 34 years with another win.
Adrian Gonzalez homered and David Ortiz, Darnell McDonald and Dustin Pedroia drove in runs to back right-hander Clay Buchholz and lead the AL East leaders to a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday night.
The win was the 11th in 12 games for a team that left home in second place on June 6 and returns Friday with a 1½-game lead over New York in the division.
"I don't get caught up in that. It just doesn't make sense. But it was a good road trip," manager Terry Francona said after going 8-1 — Boston's best mark on a trip of at least nine games since 1977.
In addition to maintaining their edge over the Yankees, the Red Sox dropped the third-place Rays 5½ off the pace by rebounding from losing the opener of the three-game series to win the final two.
"We feel like we are playing better baseball," Francona added. "I think that's really what we need to stay focused on."
The Red Sox outscored opponents 90-42 on the trip. They also got some quality pitching performances, including the first one-hitter of Josh Beckett's career against Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
"It was a great road trip. We did a lot of good things," third baseman Kevin Youkilis said. "The biggest thing is finishing out games. We don't have to score 15 runs or throw one-hitters. It's doing the little things like we did tonight."
Buchholz (6-3) allowed one run and two hits in five innings, limiting the Rays to Sam Fuld's second-inning RBI double and B.J. Upton's fourth-inning single before leaving the game because of lower back tightness. Tampa Bay trimmed a 3-1 deficit to one run on Casey Kotchman's solo homer off Alfredo Aceves in the sixth.
Gonzalez's solo shot off Kyle Farnsworth restored a two-run lead in the ninth.
Boston reliever Daniel Bard retired all four batters he faced and closer Jonathan Papelbon worked through a ninth-inning jam to earn his 13th save in 14 opportunities.
Buchholz said his injury got progressively worse after the second inning.
"It's a nagging back that's been the same since last year," the right-hander said. "I feel like I was in a better position tonight to come out a little early and not put anymore stress on my body than I had to. The way we're playing right now, nobody wants to go on the (disabled list). That was my first thought, I've got to get through five innings."
Kotchman doubled and Upton reached on an infield single to begin the Tampa Bay ninth. Pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson fouled out trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt, and Papelbon escaped by striking out pinch-hitter Justin Ruggiano and Sean Rodriguez to end the game.
Ortiz drew a bases-loaded walk in the first after Rays starter David Price (7-6) drew a warning from home plate umpire Gary Darling for hitting Kevin Youkilis with a pitch in the left arm to fill the bases. Both benches were warned, and Price settled down to strike out Jed Lowrie and get Carl Crawford to ground out.
McDonald singled and Pedroia doubled to drive in runs to make it 3-0 in the second. Ortiz drew a two-out walk to load the bases against Price again, but Boston missed out on an opportunity to do more damage when Marco Scutaro popped out to end the inning.
Price walked a season-high five while allowing three runs and five hits in five innings. The 25-year-old left-hander struck out five.
"I gave up three runs in the first two innings," Price said. "That makes it tough on our offense."
Tampa Bay's bullpen kept the Rays in it with Juan Cruz, J.P. Howell, Joel Peralta and Farnsworth teaming to hold the Red Sox hitless until Gonzalez's 14th homer with two outs in the ninth.
Price also helped by turning himself around after the rough first two innings.
"He's not going to be perfect every time out there. ... He didn't have his best stuff, but he gave us a chance," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We've just got to score more runs."
Notes: Francona said Papelbon's appeal of a three-game suspension for making contact with umpire Tony Randazzo on June 4 is getting closer to a resolution. ... Maddon expects DH Johnny Damon will play in the field a couple times during a six-game interleague trip next week to Milwaukee and Houston. ... Red Sox CF Jacoby Ellsbury did not start, but entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. ... Lowrie left the game in the first inning due to a sore left shoulder. ... Tampa Bay Lightning backup goalie Mike Smith homered during batting practice. He got the ball and a shaving cream pie in the face for his long-ball effort. Smith and teammates Steven Stamkos, Nate Thompson and Teddy Purcell threw out ceremonial pitches.