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09/07/08 8:56 PM ET

Red Sox look to gain on Rays in series

Boston (84-58) vs. Tampa Bay (85-56), Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET

ARLINGTON -- Football season may be underway, but the Red Sox haven't received the memo.

Saturday afternoon, while many sports fans were tuned in to their regional college football games, the Red Sox sat, stood and squatted in front of the flat screen TV in the visiting clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to watch the Rays and Blue Jays in extra innings.

As Gregg Zaun stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 13th inning with the bases loaded, chants of "Zauny Bench" began to rise up among some of the Red Sox players.

When Zaun lifted a first-pitch fastball just over the right-field fence at Rogers Centre for a walk-off grand slam to send the Rays to their fourth loss in their last five games, the Red Sox broke out into a full uproar. Those who weren't before were now singing Zaun's praises.

After a weekend in which the Red Sox entered 3 1/2 games behind the Rays in the American League East, they welcome Tampa Bay to Fenway Park on Monday for a three-game series just 1 1/2 games behind in the division chase.

Although the Red Sox own a comfy 6 1/2-game lead in the Wild Card, their eyes are fixed on the division title.

Considering the home team has won all 12 meetings between the Red Sox and Rays this season, the Red Sox could overtake the Rays during the next three days.

"You want to get just as close to zero as possible," Kevin Youkilis said. "We just want to win one series at a time. Sweeps are great, but more than anything, we just want to win each series. We control our own fate, so we can't depend on others to beat the Rays for us."

And perhaps no team has been more self-dependant than the Red Sox.

The Red Sox have spent most of the last four weeks without No. 1 starter Josh Beckett, starting third baseman Mike Lowell and key role player Sean Casey. Youkilis also missed most of the last week due to a combination of the flu, back spasms and personal issues.

All four players returned to the club over the weekend and will be fully available against the Rays, including Beckett, who will take the mound Wednesday before the Rays skip town.

Since Aug. 1, despite the injuries that have happened since, the Red Sox are 23-10.

"I think you just have to tip your cap to the guys who have filled in," Youkilis said. "It's never one star. It's everybody. That's when you move on, when everybody on the team steps up."

J.D. Drew, whose been on the disabled list since Aug. 18 with a herniated disk in his lower back, is also hoping to return to action during the Tampa Bay series.

If Drew can return Monday, he'll do so in front of a record-setting crowd at Fenway.

Monday will mark the 456th straight sellout crowd at Fenway Park, which will break the Major League record for consecutive sellouts set by the Indians from June 12, 1995-April 2, 2001. The Red Sox streak began May 15, 2003.

One player in the Rays clubhouse who understands the resiliency of the Red Sox, as well as the aura of Fenway Park, is Eric Hinske, who played for the Red Sox from 2006-07.

"Yeah, they're a good home team," Hinske said. "They definitely have a home-field advantage with the fans there in Boston. We haven't played very well this year in that place.

"We have definitely got to get one win there for sure and hopefully win the series."

Even if the trend of home-team dominance continues this week, Hinske and the Rays have the benefit of three more home games against the Red Sox, Sept. 15-17, to undo any damage done in Boston.

"You still have quite a few games left so a lot of things can happen," Hinske said. "You just can't put too much emphasis on it. You have just got to treat it as any other kind of game if you can. It's not, but you have to just treat it like it's any other game."

Pitching matchup
BOS: LHP Jon Lester (13-5, 3.37 ERA)
Lester continued his dominance in 2008 against the Orioles on Tuesday. He improved his season record against Baltimore to 3-0 in four starts while harboring a 2.16 ERA. The good news for Boston and its young lefty? He's also rather strong against the Rays. Lester is 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA in two starts against the leaders of the AL East.

TB: RHP Edwin Jackson (11-9, 4.07 ERA)
Jackson suffered his ninth loss of the season on Wednesday night, going a season-low 3 1/3 innings and exiting with a 6-1 deficit. The right-hander was tagged by the Yankees for 10 hits and left after tossing 70 pitches, 46 for strikes. The young flamethrower is at his best when he is locating his 97-mph fastball, which sets up an array of other pitches, particularly his slider. He is 2-3 with a 5.70 ERA in seven starts vs. Boston.

During Boston's 455-game sellout streak, the Red Sox have gone 296-159. The Red Sox have posted a .297 batting average during that span, scoring 2,724 runs and hitting 529 home runs. Red Sox pitchers have posted a 4.24 ERA since the streak began, having thrown 66,774 pitches. The Red Sox have accumulated a total attendance of 16,298,530 during the sellout streak. ... With Sunday's victory, the Red Sox finished the season with a 9-1 record against Texas, their third most wins against an opponent since 1950 with one loss against or fewer. They outscored the Rangers 90-53 in the 10-game season series.

 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
• WRKO 680, SBN 1150 (Español)

Up next
• Tuesday: Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka, 16-2, 2.88) vs. Rays (Scott Kazmir, 11-6, 2.99), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 12-9, 4.20) vs. Rays (Andy Sonnanstine, 13-7, 4.66), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Off-day

Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.