A fantastic July has catapulted the Tampa Bay Rays to the top of the American League East. They hope to remain there when they start a brief two-game set Tuesday versus the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Rays leapfrogged the Boston Red Sox for the division lead with Monday's 2-1 win at Fenway Park in a makeup game from last Thursday. Wil Myers and Sean Rodriguez each drove in a run, while Evan Longoria and Yunel Escobar had two hits and a run scored apiece.
David Price continued to shine of late and has won three straight and five of six starts. Price limited the Red Sox to a run and two hits over 7 1/3 innings with no walks for a second straight outing.
"I've proved to them I can go out there and pound the strike zone," Price said. "Once I've done that no one wants to hit 1-2, 0-2."
There was a controversial play in the eighth inning, when Daniel Nava was allegedly tagged out at the plate by catcher Jose Molina on a sacrifice fly. Replays showed Nava's foot slid under Molina's tag, but home plate umpire Jerry Meals made the call.
"What I saw was: Molina blocked the plate and Nava's foot lifted," Meals said afterward. "But in the replays, you could clearly see Nava's foot got under for a split second and then lifted, so I was wrong on my decision. From the angle I had, I did not see his foot get under Molina's shin guard."
Tampa Bay, which is 22-4 in its last 26 games, is a half-game ahead of Boston in the AL East and has won eight of its last 10 games.
With the MLB trade deadline on the horizon, the Rays acquired injured reliever Jesse Crain from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for a player to be named or cash considerations. Crain, a right-hander, hasn't pitched since June 29 and is on the 15-day disabled list with a shoulder strain.
The Rays are confident Crain will be able to contribute down the road.
"We feel like when healthy, Jesse is among the best relief pitchers in the game," Rays GM Andrew Friedman said on the club's website. "As far as prognosis, we don't really know, in that we haven't had a chance to put our hands on him.
"It's too early to speculate on exactly when, but again, with our training staff and everything we've learned about Jesse, we're confident he will come back and impact this team."
Roberto Hernandez gets the call Tuesday for Tampa Bay and is only 1-5 in his last six decisions. Hernandez has allowed at least three runs in each of his past nine outings and lost at Boston last Tuesday in a 6-2 decision, charged with three runs and seven hits in five innings.
Hernandez, who is 5-11 in 19 starts with a 4.92 ERA, has never faced Arizona.
The ongoing surge by the Los Angeles Dodgers has dropped the Diamondbacks 2 1/2 games off the NL West lead, a title the club once owned. The D'backs will begin a six-game road trip Tuesday at Tropicana Field.
Arizona lost the last two installments of a three-game set versus the San Diego Padres over the weekend and recently dropped a 1-0 verdict on Sunday. Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin stroked an RBI single in the first inning and that was all the offense San Diego would need.
D'backs All-Star Patrick Corbin was dealt the hard-luck loss and lasted eight innings, striking out eight and walking none.
"We haven't played our best baseball, we know that," Corbin said. "I don't know why, but we're trying to figure it out. Hopefully, we can go over there and get some wins."
Cliff Pennington had two of the D'backs' three hits in defeat, while the first three batters in the lineup were a combined 0-for-12.
The Diamondbacks, who will also visit Texas for a game and Boston for three more on this trip, hope Ian Kennedy can pitch the club back into the win column Tuesday. Kennedy is 0-4 with a 5.86 ERA in his last nine starts with the club going 1-8 in that span. He previously toed the rubber in Wednesday's 7-6 loss to the Chicago Cubs and gave up six runs -- two earned -- in five innings for the no-decision.
Kennedy is just 3-7 in 20 starts this season with a 5.22 ERA and 1-3 in five career starts against the Rays (6.66 ERA). The righty hasn't fared well on the road either, going 1-4 in 12 chances.
Arizona and Tampa Bay are meeting for the first time since the Diamondbacks won two of three matchups back in 2010.