BOSTON -- The Rays' six-game winning streak began the day of a David Price start, an outing that kept them in position for a tremendous ninth-inning walk-off victory. A full turn through the rotation later, Tampa Bay is still jetting toward another September for the ages.
Price delivered perhaps his best start of the season on Tuesday night, one that kept the Rays' playoff chances alive and himself closer to an American League Cy Young Award. Once the left-hander scrapped his cutter in the early innings, the Red Sox were hapless as the Rays posted a 5-2 win at Fenway Park.
Price struck out a season-high 13, giving him 201 on the season. That was the tougher magic No. 200 for him to reach Tuesday. Once he was through five innings, the southpaw also hit that mark for innings pitched. He's got 19 wins now, and a 2.56 ERA.
"We have a good feeling in this locker room before games," Price said. "The win is first and foremost, but I mean 200 innings, 200 strikeouts, that's pretty special as well. ... We feel good. If we can keep in those last few games against Baltimore, anything can happen."
With eight games left, the Rays remain three back of the A's for the second AL Wild Card spot, as Oakland was also victorious Tuesday. Tampa Bay picked up a game in the AL East standings and is five games back of the division-leading Yankees, who lost to the Twins.
Manager Joe Maddon has been adamant that the team stick to the day-at-a-time approach as they try -- once again -- to squeeze into the playoffs. But that doesn't mean he or his players aren't starting to feel what's going on, aren't starting to buy in to the Majors' longest active win streak.
"It should be real. It's real to me right now. I'd like to believe the players believe it's real" Maddon said. "Listen, we just keep going 1-0, we're in pretty good shape. You got to go keep applying pressure. Again, we've talked about 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' in the past. Who are those guys? We got to be those guys to somebody."
Two batters accounted for all of the Rays' runs. One was sick, the other ended up hurt.
Jeff Keppinger, who opened the scoring with a three-run homer to left in the third inning, is battling an illness that could easily have had him in bed instead of at the park. Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz, who gave up all of Tampa Bay's runs, walked the first two batters of the third, Evan Longoria and Luke Scott. Scott's free pass came on four pitches, so Keppinger knew what to look for.
"Right down the middle, and he gave it to me," said Keppinger, who's got 13 hits in his last 26 at-bats. "He's a quality pitcher, and after walking two guys in a row he wants to get ahead. So it was one of them things where either I'm going to take first pitch or I'm going to be looking to get that first-pitch fastball right down the middle, and I decided if he threw it, I'm swinging. So he gave it to me, and I put a good swing on it."
Keppinger lined the pitch off the left-most light tower that protrudes from the Green Monster.
"I'm just weak," Keppinger said of his state. "The medication's just starting to kick in a little bit and starting to make me feel a little better. My body's been achy the last couple days. [I've] kind of been bed-ridden the last two days, so [I'm] definitely starting to come around a little bit."
Catcher Jose Molina, whose stretch-run performance Maddon lauded before the game, gave the Rays breathing room in the sixth inning. Tampa Bay led 3-2 when he singled to left-center, a hit that led to two runs, but Molina also came up lame on the play with a strained right quad.
Good thing that happened later in the game.
Maddon particularly likes how Price works with Molina, and the pairing paid off Tuesday in the third inning. Trailing, 3-0, going into the bottom of the second, Boston got back one run in that frame and another an inning later. Price balked in the run in the third inning, but still, the Sox were timing him well.
Then Molina had some sage words, and Price took over.
"I felt like their approach to me in the second and third inning was very good," said Price. "I felt like they were trying to hit all the fastballs to right field, [and] that put 'em on time with the cutter. Granted it was catching too much plate and it was too much middle away. Molina came and talked to me after the third inning, told me we're going to switch some stuff up and give them some different looks and we kept doing that and it was pretty smart words."
Some poor Boston baserunning -- and strong Tampa Bay defense -- also helped the Rays' effort. Molina threw out Pedro Ciriaco on a steal attempt at third in the third inning, and in the ninth, left fielder Desmond Jennings made a diving catch of Cody Ross' liner for the second-to-last out.
"He's just as good as anyone," said Ross. "He got himself in a little trouble and then all of a sudden, he was like, 'That's enough,' and he really turned it on and pitched lights-out. That's what the elite of the elite do."
Price didn't walk anyone and threw 112 pitches. If someone had reached in the ninth, Maddon was going to pull the plug, but he thought his ace had enough left.
Was it a Cy Young performance?
"I would hope so," said Maddon.