The Boston Red Sox have led the American League East for 53 straight days, a run that the red-hot Tampa Bay Rays have put in jeopardy.
The Red Sox look to hold off the Rays on Tuesday night behind a rested Jon Lester as the division rivals resume a four-game series at Fenway Park.
Boston has led the AL East since May 27 and has had at least a share of the top spot for 91 days this season, but victories in 18 of its last 20 games has pulled Tampa Bay to within a half-game of first place.
The Rays, who were seven games out of first on June 28, took the opener of this series 3-0 on Monday night behind Matt Moore's first career shutout. He scattered two hits and a walk to win his 14th game of the season.
"I would say, in the major leagues, that's the most efficient I've been," said Moore. "I think that's probably the best game I've ever thrown."
James Loney drove in two runs and Ben Zobrist had three hits for the Rays, who had won six straight and have never led the division this season.
That could change with a victory tonight as the Red Sox have lost four of their past six games despite a solid effort from young hurler Brandon Workman. He held the Rays to two runs over six innings one day after Boston won a thrilling 8-7 decision over the New York Yankees in 11 innings.
"He keeps the game under control," said Red Sox manager John Farrell of Workman. "He's shows some maturity on the mound for just three appearances at the big league level."
Boston, which lost for just the fourth time in 13 games versus Tampa Bay this season, hopes a little extra rest will benefit Lester tonight.
Lester was originally scheduled to make his second half debut on Sunday, but had it pushed back to tonight. Farrell said his hurler was pushed back due to "general wear and tear" and not because of an injury concern.
"Honestly, I know it looks weird just with the schedule and you get pushed back. But I've thrown a lot of pitches this year. Like I said, we're just trying to take advantage of the All-Star break and a couple of extra days we have thrown in there. We felt like it was a good time to do that," Lester told Boston's official website.
The left-hander will make his first appearance since July 13, when he lost his second start in a row despite a solid outing. In a 3-0 setback to Oakland, he allowed three runs over 6 1/3 innings.
Lester, who won his first six decisions of the season, is now 8-6 with a 4.58 earned run average in 20 starts spanning 125 2/3 innings. However, he is 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA in seven outings at home this year.
The 29-year-old is 11-9 with a 4.36 ERA in 25 career meetings with the Rays, but got hammered for seven runs over 4 2/3 innings on the road against them on June 11. Lester allowed at least a run in every inning and gave up solo homers to Desmond Jennings and Evan Longoria in the second and fourth innings, respectively, before serving up a two-run shot to Matt Joyce in the fifth.
Roberto Hernandez snapped a four-decision losing streak last time out and looks to pitch the Rays into first place on Tuesday night.
Hernandez beat Houston on July 13, allowing just three earned runs in a start for a fourth straight trip to the hill. He logged six innings and scattered six hits and a walk while striking out six in the 4-3 victory.
"He obviously got better (as the game went along). I thought his last inning might have been his best," said Rays manager Joe Maddon of Hernandez, who allowed all three of his runs in the first inning. "He was just (more) assertive. He did not want to come out of the game, I know that."
The 32-year-old righty improved to 5-10 with a 4.90 ERA in 18 starts this season with his first triumph since June 11 over a visiting Boston club. He gave up three runs over seven innings and fanned seven on that day, moving to 3-4 with a 3.66 ERA in 10 games (8 starts) versus the Red Sox.