A game, in other words, that the Sox could ill afford to lose against the eminently ordinary Roberto Hernandez (nee Fausto Carmona), especially with first place in the American League East at stake.
For much of the night, it was closer than the Sox would have preferred, but behind their own (dare they hope) rejuvenated Jon Lester and some splendid work by the bullpen, the Sox refused to cede occupancy of the top spot, blowing past the Rays 6-2 before a spirited throng of 34,609 in Fenway Park.
The Sox, who began the night ahead of the Rays by a half-game, extended that lead to 1 ½ games by ending Tampa Bay’s six-game winning streak. Moore had thrown a two-hit shutout against the Sox on Monday night, Tampa Bay’s 12th shutout of the season and fifth of the month.
Lester did not spin a shutout but limited the Rays to solo home runs by Wil Myers and Evan Longoria in 6 1/3 innings. Lester, who eschewed his normal reliance on his cutter in favor of more changeups and sinkers, did not walk a batter and struck out eight.
Lester departed after a one-out double by Jose Molina in the seventh. Matt Thornton entered and retired Sean Rodriguez, and Junichi Tazawa finished off the Rays in the inning by striking out Desmond Jennings on three pitches.
Tazawa fanned two more in the eighth before yielding to Koji Uehara, who closed things out.
Dustin Pedroia, who staked his claim on permanent occupancy of Yawkey Way by agreeing to a seven-year, $100 million contract extension that will keep him here through the 2021 season, contributed to the cause by successfully triggering a delayed double steal, on which Shane Victorino scored from third, and hitting a sacrifice fly in the fifth after Daniel Nava doubled and moved up on a wild pitch by Hernandez.
Victorino, leading off in place of Jacoby Ellsbury, who was not in the lineup due to a scheduled day off, according to manager John Farrell (really?), doubled ahead of his double steal.
The Sox opened the scoring in the second, although David Ortiz ran them out of a bigger inning when Myers cut him down at third on Mike Napoli’s single. Napoli, who had taken second on the play, scored when Mike Carp followed with a base hit.
The Sox broke it open with three runs in the eighth off Rays reliever Kyle Farnsworth. Napoli doubled and Jonny Gomes singled to put runners on the corners, and with two outs Stephen Drew lined a single to right to score Napoli and send Gomes to third. Drew stole second uncontested, and Jose Iglesias followed with a single off Longoria’s glove at third to score two more runs.