BOSTON (AP) — It only took a couple of minor tweaks for David Price to go from difficult to hit to overpowering.
The left-hander struck out a season-high 13, Jeff Keppinger hit a three-run homer and the Tampa Bay Rays kept their playoff hopes alive with a 5-2 win over the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night.
Price (19-5) pitched his second complete game of the season and all but one of his strikeouts came in the final seven innings as he reached a total of 201 for the season. He still has one start to go and could reach 20 wins for the first time in his career, but is more concerned right now with the Rays’ push toward the postseason.
“We feel good. Nobody has hit the panic button in this locker room,” Price said. “We’re playing well right now and need to keep it going.”
Tampa Bay entered the day three games behind Oakland for the AL’s second wild-card spot and has only eight games remaining, making a loss to the struggling Red Sox in the two-game series especially costly. There never seemed much danger in that happening as Price grew stronger as the game continued.
Price said catcher Jose Molina told him in a visit to the mound in the third to start mixing in more changeups and curveballs.
“We got good results from it so we just kept doing it,” Price said.
The Rays got to Boston starter Clay Buchholz (11-7) quickly on Keppinger’s three-run homer in the second and Price (19-5) was able to preserve the lead despite balking with a runner on third to pull Boston within 3-2.
“His changeup was outstanding tonight. We were on his hard stuff early and hit him pretty good and he just backed off of it and seemed to throw a lot of aces with it,” Boston manager Bobby Valentine said.
Price scattered seven hits and walked none. He also got some help in the field on a diving catch by left fielder Desmond Jennings in the ninth and Molina throwing out Pedro Ciriaco as he tried to steal third in what could have been a big third inning for Boston.
“That’s who we’ve got to be. That’s who we are. To play that level of defense and pitch and get some timely hits, that’s a formula we’ve tried in the past that’s worked,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We’re nice and lose, but then there’s a nice business like focus when the game begins and it’s a great combination.”
Boston has lost five of six and 19 of 26.
Tampa Bay pulled away with two runs in the sixth when Molina hit a line drive to left-center that wound up only being a single because he pulled up limping at first base with a strained right quad.
Keppinger scored easily from third on the hit and Carlos Pena, who avoided a double play when Buchholz was pulled off the bag on shortstop Jose Iglesias’ throw from second on a fielder’s choice, came all the way around from first. Daniel Nava misplayed the bounce off the wall in left and was charged with an error for allowing Pena to score and put the Rays up 5-2.
Buchholz got himself in trouble in the second when he walked Evan Longoria and Luke Scott to start the inning. Keppinger was up next and jumped on the first pitch he saw from Buchholz, a fastball redirected for a shot over the Green Monster.
“I decided if he threw it I’m swinging. He gave it to me and I put a good swing on it,” said Keppinger, who had been battling a fever. “I had no idea. I just knew I was trying to hit it hard if he threw me a fastball. At first I thought I hit it good and then I realized how big that wall was so I started running a little bit. Luckily it got out.”
Buchholz lasted six innings, allowing eight hits and five runs, four earned. He struck out five and walked two.
“It happens sooner or later. You want to go out there and win, but when you don’t have a feel for pitches that you usually are able to throw for a strike or the area you want to throw them, it’s tough to go out there and win,” Buchholz said.
Cody Ross led off the second for Boston with a single and scored on Danny Valencia’s single to cut the lead to 3-1.
Price allowed a run when he balked with Nava on third and Dustin Pedroia on second after a two-out double in the third. Home plate umpire Mike Everitt halted play and signaled Nava to come home as the PA system played “Free Ride” by the Edgar Winter Group. Price needed just one more pitch to strike out Ross and end the inning.
Notes: Boston plays its home finale Wednesday when LHP Jon Lester (9-13) is scheduled to face Tampa Bay RHP Alex Cobb (9-9). … Maddon said the Rays are shuffling their rotation, moving up RHP Jeremy Hellickson’s start to Friday and pushing back LHP Matt Moore to Saturday at Chicago. Maddon said the move was about setting up the Rays should they remain in contention for the playoffs. “I don’t even care if he tells them in advance what he’s throwing. He could actually stand on the mound and say here comes my fastball and I still think he can be successful,” Maddon said. … Valentine said injured CF Jacoby Ellsbury, who missed his fifth straight game, could return Wednesday. … The Red Sox paid tribute to the 2004 World Series championship club with a pregame celebration with former players including Kevin Millar, Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek riding around the field in a mini parade of duck boats. Former manager Terry Franconia was on the first boat and received the loudest cheer when he was introduced.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.