Rays ready for final meeting with Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays finish up their season series tonight at 7 ET in the first game of our Wednesday Night Baseball doubleheader on ESPN.

Matt Garza gets the call for the Rays as they try to keep pace with the Yankees in the race for not only the AL East title but also the best record in the majors. Garza carved his name in the franchise record books in August, posting a 1.27 ERA in August that was the second-lowest in any month in Rays history, just behind Scott Kazmir’s 1.22 in May 2008.

His run of overpowering performances actually started in late July when he became the first pitcher in Rays history to throw a no-hitter - during a Monday Night Baseball game on ESPN July 26. Including the no-no, Garza has gone 4-2 with a 1.58 ERA in his last eight starts, posting the third-best ERA in the majors over that time span.

In case he needs any more confidence heading into the game tonight, he only has to recall his past matchups against the Red Sox. He owns a 7-3 record in 17 career starts versus Boston, which is the fifth-best winning percentage against the franchise among players that debuted in the last 70 seasons (min. 17 starts). Only Gaylord Perry (22-5), Allie Reynolds (24-9), John Buzhardt (10-4) and Bobby Witt (12-5) have better records than Garza - and none of those pitchers beat the Red Sox twice in the same playoff series, as Garza did in the 2008 ALCS.

Highest Win Percentage Vs Red Sox, Debuted in Last 70 Seasons

With the Red Sox playoff hopes virtually extinguished following their 14-5 loss to the Rays Tuesday night - which left them seven and a half games back in the Wild Card Race - Terry Francona announced Tim Wakefield as the starter for tonight's game in place of Clay Buchholz, who was originally slated to pitch on short rest in a last-ditch push for the postseason.

Buchholz certainly would have given the Red Sox a legitimate chance to win the game, since he finished August with a 1.03 ERA, which was the fifth-lowest by a Red Sox pitcher since 1913 when earned runs were first tracked. His 1.88 career ERA vs the Rays is also the second-best by any pitcher that has made at least five starts against the team.

Yet, the 44-year-old Wakefield is not a bad second choice, despite the struggles that have plagued him in 2010. Not only are his 20 wins against the Rays the most of any pitcher versus the franchise, his .769 winning percentage (20-6) is the highest among the dozen pitchers with at least 15 decisions against the team.

Most Wins vs Rays, All-Time

He's also a masterful 10-2 career against the Rays at Fenway Park, with a couple of eight-inning, no-run gems. But that comes with a caution: Evan Longoria is 6-for-11 with a home run and three walks against the knuckleballer.

It's not just Longoria and Garza that have enjoyed a lot of success against their AL East rival. The Rays have collectively fared well against the Red Sox this season, winning 11 of 17 matchups, including six of seven games in Beantown. Both of those win totals are their most against the more-storied franchise in the 13 seasons since Tampa joined the league in 1998.

Need even more evidence of the Rays' recent surge against the Red Sox? They are 27-17 versus Boston dating back to June 30, 2008...and that is the best record by ANY American League team against the Red Sox since that date.

The Hunt For October continues tonight as the Rays and Red Sox battle in the first game of a Wednesday Night Baseball doubleheader at 7 ET on ESPN.