ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Christian Vázquez hit a tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning, Marcus Walden bailed Boston out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth and the Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 on Tuesday night to move into second place in the AL East for the first time since the second day of the season.
The defending World Series champions have recovered from a 3-8 start and 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. 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 have closed on Oakland, which leads for the second AL wild-card berth.
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.
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.
Chris Sale (5-9) allowed two runs on Travis d’Arnaud’s third-inning homer and limited the Rays to just three other hits while throwing a season-high 116 pitches and striking out 10 over six innings. Sale has dropped his ERA from 4.24 to 4.00 in his last two starts.
Rays starter Yonny Chirinos settled after giving up a pair of two-out runs in the first inning — one on a wild pitch allowing Rafael Devers to score from third base and the other on Benintendi’s RBI single.
Red Sox: INF Michael Chavis, out of the lineup for a third straight day after experiencing back spasms, pinch hit in the eighth inning and struck out. He remained in the game at second base. … 1B Steve Pearce, who has not played since May 31 due to a lower back strain, is swinging a bat in Fort Myers, but the World Series MVP is not close to a return, manager Alex Cora said.
Rays: Rays manager Kevin Cash said All-Star INF Brandon Lowe, out since July 3 with a right shin bone bruise, was given injection “to get pain out of there” and will be shut down for several days. Lowe, who was wearing a walking boot in the clubhouse on Tuesday, took on-field batting practice Monday. … INF Yandy Díaz (bruised left foot) was placed on the 10-day injured list, while INF Matt Duffy (strained left hamstring) was reinstated from the 60-day IL. Duffy, who hadn’t played in the big leagues this season, started at third base, batted fifth and went 2-for-3 with a walk.
A prime pitching matchup for Wednesday’s series finale features Boston’s David Price (7-3, 3.61 ERA) and Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton (11-3, 2.61). Price began his career with the Rays and will make his 17th start against his former team. He’s 6-5 with a 3.16 ERA vs. the Rays, including 2-3 with a 2.32 in eight starts and one relief appearance at Tropicana Field.
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