ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon couldn't have scripted a better start to the second half of the season than an impressive offensive outburst that helped the Rays tighten the AL East standings.
All-Star David Price pitched six solid innings and Ben Zobrist hit his fifth career grand slam, enabling the Rays to snap first-place Boston's six-game winning streak with a 9-6 victory that opened a critical seven-game homestand against the teams the third-place Rays are chasing in the division.
Maddon spoke with his players before a workout Thursday, detailing what he felt they needed to do — particularly offensively — to have a chance to remain in contention for their third postseason berth in four seasons.
"I talked to them about the one-day-at-time mantra. ... I like to reduce it to more simplistic moments or terms," Maddon said, reiterating that his team cannot afford to approach a week of games against the Red Sox and second-place New York Yankees any other way.
"I do believe if you're looking at this big picture and are worried about whether you play well for seven days or whatever it may be, you're really setting yourself up probably for a bad moment," the manager added. "You don't say we need to win five out of seven. You don't say that stuff. You play tonight, work the process. If you work the process well, you should come out on top."
Price (9-7) allowed five hits — three of them solo homers — while striking out seven and walking one in his first outing since giving up Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit at Yankee Stadium last week.
The 25-year-old lefty skipped Tuesday's All-Star game because of a turf toe injury, helping Maddon set up Tampa Bay's pitching rotation the way he wanted to contnue a stretch in which the Rays are plays 10 consecutive games against Boston and New York, which arrives at Tropicana Field for four beginning Monday.
"Our offense did a great job," Price said. "It was a good start to the second half."
The switch-hitting Zobrist homered from the right side off Andrew Miller (3-1) in the second, breaking the franchise record for grand slams he shared with Carlos Pena. Zobrist drove in a fifth run when he drew a bases-loaded walk from the left side of the plate against reliever Alfredo Aceves, making it 7-2 in the third.
Casey Kotchman hit a two-run homer and B.J. Upton and Sam Fuld had RBI singles for the third-place Rays, who continued a stretch in which they are playing 10 consecutive games against the Red Sox and Yankees, the teams they are chasing in the AL East.
The victory trimmed Tampa Bay's season-high, six-game deficit in the division to five. Kyle Farnsworth retired all four batters he faced, earning his 18th save in 20 opportunities.
Darnell McDonald, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia homered off Price for the Red Sox, who lost for just the second time in 12 games. Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis singled for the other hits off the Rays ace, who has given up five homers in three July starts — one of them a solo shot for Jeter's 3,000th hit last Saturday.
Marco Scutaro's two-run homer off Joel Peralta trimmed Tampa Bay's lead to 9-5 in the seventh. Youkilis added an RBI single off Juan Cruz in the eighth.
"The grand slam takes the wind out of your sail," Pedroia said. "We battled back and tried to make it a game. We did that. We played hard. They just swung the bats better than we did."
Boston's David Ortiz remained in the lineup after appealing the four-game suspension he received for his part in a bench-clearing melee with the Baltimore Orioles last week.
The All-Star slugger was suspended Thursday, along with Orioles pitchers Kevin Gregg and Mike Gonzalez and Baltimore manager Buck Showalter. Ortiz answered questions from reporters, but declined to specifically address the discipline before going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts against the Rays.
"I can't really talk about it now. But at one point I will," Ortiz said. "I'll tell you what I was thinking. I'll tell you what I thought was right."
Miller, who won his first three decisions after being promoted from the minors to fill a spot in Boston's injury-riddled rotation, allowed seven runs and five hits in 2 2-3 innings. Besides yielding the first-pitch grand slam to Zobrist, the lefty hurt himself with five walks.
Notes: The Rays lead the season series 4-2. ... Miller was a third-round draft pick of the Rays in 2003, but didn't sign with them. ... Red Sox manager Terry Francona said RHP Josh Beckett (left knee soreness) will make his scheduled start on Sunday. ... Boston LHP Jon Lester (strained back muscle) is expected to throw off a bullpen mound Monday. ... Red Sox LF Carl Crawford (strained left hamstring) began a two-game minor league rehab assignment at Triple-A Pawtucket and barring any setbacks will rejoin the team Monday. He played five innings Friday night, going 1 for 2 with an RBI single and a walk against Durham.