Rays eye quick sweep of Red Sox

The Tampa Bay Rays can forget about making a run for an American League East title and must focus on capturing a wild card berth.

Sitting five games off the lead in the AL East with eight to play, the Rays are three games behind for the final wild card spot and will shoot for a two- game sweep of the Boston Red Sox tonight.

Tampa Bay has won six in a row and posted a 5-2 win last night behind another solid performance from AL Cy Young candidate David Price. The left-hander went the distance and struck out a season-best 13 batters to push his record to 19-5 this season.

Price allowed a pair of runs and seven hits and did not walk a batter.

"He could win the Cy Young ... great durability, great competitor," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of Price.

Jeff Keppinger hit a three-run homer and Jose Molina added two hits and an RBI for the Rays, who last won seven in a row from Aug. 7-13. Molina, though, sustained a strained right quadriceps and is day-to-day.

The Rays will head to Chicago after this set for a four-game series against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

Alex Cobb was 5-0 with a 3.25 earned run average in seven starts -- all Tampa Bay wins -- from Aug. 1-Sept. 4. But now he is 0-1 in his previous two trips to the hill and looks to get back in the groove tonight. Cobb allowed four runs -- three earned -- in six innings of a 5-2 loss to Boston last Monday and fell to 9-9 with a 4.27 earned run average in 21 starts. He tossed five no-hit innings before imploding.

Cobb, a Boston native, is 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA in two career starts against the Red Sox.

Meanwhile, Valentine's days as Red Sox skipper could be numbered and his club has dropped five of six games.

In Tuesday's tough loss to Price and the Rays, Dustin Pedroia had a team-high two hits and Danny Valencia drove in a run.

Clay Buchholz took the mound for Boston and was dealt the loss for allowing five runs -- four earned -- and eight hits in six innings. He fanned five batters and walked two.

"For the first time in a long time (Buchholz) walked two guys," said Valentine. "He just didn't have a good feel for any of his pitches and then he threw on down the middle to put us down 3-0. Other than that he was really good."

Actually, Buchholz walked two batters in his previous start on Sept. 20 at Tampa Bay and has issued at least that many in four straight outings. He walked five batters on Sept. 15 at Toronto.

The Red Sox will close out their final homestand of the season tonight and will play six road games at Baltimore and New York.

Jon Lester didn't have such a nice outing against the Rays back on May 25, when he was tagged for seven runs in just four innings of a 7-4 loss. Lester can exact revenge tonight when he takes the ball for the Red Sox.

Lester is 1-3 in his last five trips to the mound and was roughed up in Friday's 4-2 loss to Baltimore in which he surrendered four runs and eight hits in seven innings. The left-hander is 9-13 in 31 overall starts with a 4.96 earned run average, and 10-7 with a 4.29 ERA in 21 career starts against the Rays.

Boston is 9-8 against Tampa Bay this season and is winless in the previous three meetings between the two AL East inhabitants. The Red Sox will miss the playoffs for a third straight season.