BOSTON – 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 Tuesday night with a 5-2 victory against the Boston Red Sox.
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, but is more concerned 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 is three games behind Oakland for the AL’s second wild-card spot and has only eight games remaining, meaning a loss to the struggling Red Sox in the two-game series would be 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 inning to start mixing in more change-ups 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. Price (19-5) was able to preserve the lead despite balking with a runner on third to pull Boston within 3-2.
“His change-up 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.
Boston has lost 5 of 6 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, scored from first.
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.
NOTES: 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.