BOSTON -- The other (lefty's) shoe dropped on the Red Sox on Wednesday night.
David Price, who was sidelined for 47 days with a triceps strain he suffered against the Red Sox on May 15, is back to being his old, dominating, Cy Young self, the Rays' rise in the AL East coinciding with his return to the rotation.
Two nights after fellow lefty Matt Moore shut out the Sox on two hits, Price did not walk a batter and allowed just Mike Napoli's seventh-inning home run in a masterful 5-1 win that drew the Rays back to within a half-game of the Sox in the division.
The Rays have won 16 of 19 since Price's return, while four Rays starters -- Moore, Price, Chris Archer and Jeremy Hellickson, who faces the Sox in the series finale -- have gone a combined 22-1 since June 19, 4-1 in Price's five starts.
Price threw just 97 pitches, 72 for strikes, for the win. Those are the fewest pitches thrown in a complete game against the Sox since Chien-Ming Wang of the Yankees needed just 93 pitches to beat them on April 11, 2008.
The Sox, meanwhile, were held to two runs or fewer for the third time in six games they've played since the break, although that might be less about an offensive breakdown than a concession to the kind of pitching they've faced since play resumed. On Saturday, they lost to Hiroki Kuroda of the Yankees 5-2, and he's no slouch, either, ranking third in the AL in ERA (2.65).
Still, outside of the streaky Napoli, who has three home runs in his past four games and 10 extra-base hits in his past 14 games, Sox bats have noticeably cooled. Dustin Pedroia, who just signed a contract extension that will keep him here until 2021, is just 2-for-22 since the break, while shortstop Stephen Drew is 1-for-12.
The most sustained decline, however, has come from third baseman Jose Iglesias. On July 6, Iglesias was batting .403, a number no one expected the rookie to sustain through the rest of the season. In 14 games since, however, Iglesias has just 9 hits -- all singles -- in 52 at-bats, a .173 clip and has not drawn a walk.
Middlebrooks, incidentally, had his third straight two-hit game for Pawtucket on Wednesday night and also had a three-hit game last Friday.
The Rays took advantage of some Sox inertness to score three runs in the third. Jonny Gomes could not handle Desmond Jennings's low liner to left, Jennings credited with a single to open the inning. Felix Doubront then tried to pick off Jennings, but first baseman Napoli couldn't collar the wide throw, the pitcher charged with the error as Jennings took second.
Evan Longoria followed with another base hit, Jennings stopping at third and Ben Zobrist then lay down a safety squeeze bunt that was fielded by Doubront, who shoveled his throw home while Jennings retreated back to the bag and Zobrist reached safely to load the bases.