We now rejoin the AL East race, already in progress.

After spending the last two weeks playing the National League, the Red Sox get back to the work of facing division rivals tonight when they host the Tampa Bay Rays. The Sox lead Tampa Bay by one game in the AL wild-card race.

It’s been a remarkable run for the Sox, who were 8½ games behind the Rays after a crushing, 11-9 walk-off loss in the Bronx to the Yankees on May 18. At that point, many residents of Red Sox Nation were ready to write off the season and talk about next year.

Since then, the Sox are 27-11 and have picked up 9½ games on Tampa Bay.

They’ve done it with the best offense in the American League, leading the AL in runs and OPS, a statistic that combines on-base percentage with slugging percentage.

They also did it by fattening up on the inferior National League. It’s something they do every year.

The Sox went 13-5 vs. the NL, making it the sixth straight year they’ve won at least 11 of 18 interleague games.

They made the two best pitchers in the NL look silly, scoring 11 runs on 15 hits in just 82/3 innings off Ubaldo Jimenez and Tim Lincecum.

In the meantime, the Rays went 7-11 against the National League. Joe Maddon’s team has sprung some leaks, dropping eight of its last 11 games, including their no-hit effort Friday night against former Rays pitcher Edwin Jackson.

It was the second time this season Tampa Bay has been no-hit, and the third time in a calendar year. They’re the first team in the history of baseball to go hitless more than twice in a one-year span.

The Rays are a young team, and while they jumped out to the best record in baseball through the first two months of the season, you had to wonder if their young pitchers would be able to withstand the marathon season and the pressures of pitching in a playoff race every day.

David Price certainly has. At 11-2, he’s on his way to the All-Star Game.

But the rest of the rotation has struggled. “Big Game” James Shields and Wade Davis are a combined 1-11 in their last 12 decisions.

Even by Florida standards, things are starting to get a little hot in the Rays clubhouse.

On Sunday, in a 2-1 loss to Arizona at Tropicana Field, Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton had to be separated in the dugout. For much of the season, Longoria has provided the majority of the Rays’ offense. Clearly, he’s getting tired of the half-effort he sees from the rest of his team at times.

It will be interesting to watch how Maddon handles this. He was the AL Manager of the Year in 2008, a philosopher/king who can speak equally well about the defensive shift, the best wines and literature.

He is a thoughtful leader, a man who has molded a young roster into a contender.

Yet he hasn’t had to deal with anything like this before.

That’s why the field general in baseball is called a manager, not a coach. He will have to manage this situation carefully if he doesn’t want the season to get away from the Rays.

In the meantime, the Red Sox are badly banged up, but they’ve survived. Monday was the first of three days off in an 11-day span.

Including the All-Star Break, they’ll play just 11 games in 17 days.

Five of those games are against Tampa Bay, giving Boston an excellent opportunity to position itself in the wild-card race.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.