Beckett, BoSox hope to stop slide vs. Rays

Josh Beckett can ease a lot of minds in Boston this evening game series at Fenway Park.

Beckett hasn't pitched since injuring his ankle in a start in Toronto back on September 5. He had won his previous three outings before getting a no- decision in that 3 2/3 inning effort against the Jays and is 12-5 on the year with a 2.49 earned run average.

"He hasn't been out very long," said manager Terry Francona. "I guess we reserve the right to see how he's feeling. That's one of those days where we'll check with him. Because he might look like he's cruising, I wouldn't want to just send him back out or assume that he's cruising if he's really laboring inside. So we'll keep an eye on him."

Beckett didn't get a decision the last time he faced the Rays, but put forth one of the best efforts of his career in that one, as he allowed just one hit in eight scoreless innings. He is 8-4 lifetime against them with a 2.94 ERA in 18 starts.

In fact Beckett hasn't surrendered a run to the Rays in 21 innings dating back to last season. He's also 5-0 with a 2.47 ERA in his last eight outings against them at Fenway.

Boston could certainly use a big start from Beckett tonight if it wants to slow down a Rays team that has now gotten themselves back into the wild card picture thanks to four wins against the Red Sox in less than a week.

Tampa continued to put the heat on Boston in Thursday's opener, as Evan Longoria, Casey Kotchman and B.J. Upton all homered and the Rays moved within three games of the wild card-leading Red Sox with a 9-2 victory.

It was Tampa Bay's sixth straight win over Boston.

The Red Sox, after mustering just six hits against starter Jeremy Hellickson and four Rays relievers, fell to 3-11 in September.

Longoria hit a three-run homer in the third inning to cap a four-run rally that proved to be all the offense Tampa Bay needed to improve to 9-3 in its last 12 games.

Hellickson (13-10) surrendered three hits and a run in 5 2/3 innings, walking four and striking out as many in his fourth game against Boston this season.

"Pitching and defense, that's the way we're built," Upton said. "Up and down the lineup, we're not going to beat you with home runs. The rest of it, I think your pitching has been consistent and our defense has been consistent."

Red Sox rookie Kyle Weiland (0-2) took the loss Thursday and was charged with four runs on three hits and two walks in just three-plus innings.

It won't get any easier for Boston tonight, as it goes up against right-hander James Shields, who has won his last four starts, while allowing just three runs in a span of 34 1/3 innings. Shields was terrific against the Red Sox on Sunday, as he allowed a run and seven hits in 8 1/3 frames to run his record to 15-10 on the year to go along with a 2.70 ERA.

"We're back in the hunt," Shields said. "Every time we play (the Red Sox), it's a big game. We're playing good baseball right now. We're feeling pretty good and confident."

Shields' last loss, though, came at Fenway on August 16 and he is 7-11 lifetime versus the Red Sox with a 4.58 ERA in 20 starts.

"I feel good," said Shields, who is 6-1 in his last eight starts. "I feel really good. No matter where I've pitched this entire season, I've felt great. I don't really think about what I've done in the past, anywhere. Right now, all I'm really worried about is the way I'm pitching right now and how I feel right now -- and I feel really good right now."

Tampa has won 10 of its 15 matchups with the Red Sox this season and is 5-1 at Fenway, where it won six of nine a year ago.