ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It’s taken nearly four months, but the Boston Red Sox are back in second place in the AL East.

Boston Red Sox pinch hitter Christian Vazquez celebrates after hitting a solo home run off Tampa Bay Rays reliever Colin Poche during the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday, July 23, 2019, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

Christian Vázquez hit a tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning, Marcus Walden bailed the defending World Series champions out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth, and the Red Sox held off the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 on Tuesday night to climb into second for the first time since the second day of the season.

The Red Sox, who have recovered from a 3-8 start, improved to a season-high 10 games over .500 at 56-46, moving one percentage point ahead of the Rays (57-47), who have lost seven of eight.

“It seems like it’s been an eternity to get to 10, but we know where we’re at now,” manager Alex Cora said.

“It seemed early in the season that those guys were way ahead of us,” Cora added. “It’s something that we learned, that we can catch up with people.”

The Red Sox had not been in second place since they were 1-1 after play on March 29, tied with Tampa Bay and Toronto. They are two games behind Oakland for the second AL wild-card berth.


“We’ve still got some work to do,” said pitcher Chris Sale, who has dropped his ERA from 4.24 to 4.00 in his last two starts. “I don’t think you exhale yet. You just keep your foot on the gas.”

With the score 2-2, Vázquez hit his second career pinch-homer, a drive into the left-field seats off Colin Poche (2-4).

Boston boosted the lead to 5-2 in the eighth when Andrew Benintendi hit an RBI groundout and Jackie Bradley Jr. was hit by a pitch from Adam Kolarek with the bases loaded, forcing in a run.

Ji-Man Choi’s had a run-scoring single off Brandon Workman in the ninth. Walden entered with the bases loaded and two outs, walked Tommy Pham on four pitches, then retired Austin Meadows on a game-ending groundout.

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash didn’t take solace in his team hanging in the game until the final out.

“If you asked me that two weeks ago, I probably would have been more encouraged,” Cash said. “We need to win. So, get the big hit, make the big pitch. We’re just not doing it right now. So no, there’s not too much encouragement right there.”

Tampa Bay led the AL East from after play on March 30 through mid-May. After a 14-4 start, they are 43-43 since April 18 and 30-35 against teams currently .500 or better.

Boston is a big league-best 32-21 on the road, including 5-0 at Tropicana Field, but 1-5 against Tampa Bay at Fenway Park this season.

Sale (5-9) allowed two runs on Travis d’Arnaud’s third-inning homer. He struck out 10 over his six innings.

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