ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Another late-inning rally and victory over Boston left Tampa Bay in a familiar spot — tied for first place in the AL East.

With Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford homering to back right-hander James Shields, the Rays won 5-3 Sunday night to keep pace with the New York Yankees and drop the third-place Red Sox 6½ games behind in the division and wild-card races.

Tampa Bay remains tied with the defending World Series champions, who beat the Chicago White Sox 2-1, for the seventh straight day.

“That’s interesting,” Rays Manager Joe Maddon said after his team won for the 11th time in 15 games. “That’s just the way it is. And, I expect the same kind of September. Back and forth, back and forth.”

Shields (13-11) won for the sixth time in eight starts, allowing three runs and seven hits over 62/3 innings. He walked one and struck out eight before turning over a one-run lead to a better-than-expected bullpen that’s one of the reasons Tampa Bay has been able to keep up with the Yankees for the best record in baseball.

The Rays rebounded from losing the opener of the crucial weekend series, winning two straight to improve to 10-5 against Boston. The season series concludes with three games Sept. 6-8 at Fenway Park, where Tampa Bay is 5-1.

The Red Sox crept within 41/2 games of the Rays and Yankees by winning Friday’s series opener. The Rays twice overcame one-run deficits in the late innings before winning 3-2 Saturday on Dan Johnson’s solo homer in the 10th.

Boston Manager Terry Francona remains optimistic about the chances of hanging in the division and wild-card races. He said, “I hope so. It’s the only way we can go.”

Red Sox pitcher John Lackey agreed that the deficit is not insurmountable. He said, “We’ve got a lot more games than that. I’m not a math whiz, but I think it’s doable.”

Pena and Crawford both homered off Lackey (12-8). Pena hit a solo shot in the fourth and Crawford delivered a two-run shot that wiped out a 3-1 Boston lead in the sixth.

Johnson’s RBI single snapped the 3-all tie later in the sixth. Evan Longoria drove in the final run charged to Lackey with a two-out single off Hideki Okajima in the seventh.

Randy Choate got the final out of the seventh and Joaquin Benoit pitched a perfect eighth before Rafael Soriano set the Red Sox down in the ninth to earn his major league-leading 39th save in 41 opportunities.

Pena has hit an AL-leading 141 homers since joining the Rays in 2007, one more than New York’s Alex Rodriguez. He has 18 against Boston during the span, five more than A-Rod and Mark Teixeira.

The Red Sox took the lead with two runs in the fifth, with rookie Yamaico Navarro getting his first major league RBI and Marco Scutaro following with a sharp ground ball that hopped over the outstretched glove of Longoria, the Rays’ third baseman, for a run-scoring single.

Shields escaped further damage in the fifth, getting J.D. Drew to ground into a force play and striking out hot-hitting Victor Martinez — 8 for 13 with three homers in the series — to end the inning.

Daniel Nava’s RBI single put Boston up 3-1 in the sixth.

Crawford’s home run into the right-field stands made him the eighth player since 1900 to get at least 100 homers, 100 triples and 400 stolen bases. The others are Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Lou Brock, Frankie Frisch, Kenny Lofton, Paul Molitor and Tim Raines.


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