The Red Sox, who shut the Rays out, 3-0, in Monday night's opener of this three-game set, have reeled off 10 victories in their last 13 games to slice the deficit to a half-game.
As hot as they are as a team, that's how hot Coco Crisp is with his bat. The center fielder, who will make his ninth consecutive start on Tuesday, is hitting .568 (21-for-37) during a 10-game hitting streak.
Back in those uncertain days of Spring Training, Crisp was candid in wondering just how much playing time he'd be able to get if he stayed with the Red Sox. Crisp could see that the team was leaning toward Jacoby Ellsbury as their center fielder of the present and future, and didn't know if there would be much of a role left for him.
Some 323 at-bats later, Crisp feels better about the situation.
"I've been playing a lot this whole season," said Crisp. "I've gotten more playing time than they imagined I would, due to injuries and stuff like that. It's always nice to get in there and play."
Crisp, who was hitting .248 as recently at Aug. 19, is all the way up to .291.
"It's been a good stretch for him," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "His batting average tells you that. He's been a big help to us. He's playing. Early on that wasn't the case. He's just gotten hot. All players go through periods where they get hot. If you could explain it, everybody would get hot. Sometimes you catch a break. Some of the balls he's hit have found holes. He got a bunt down the other day and it hit a rock. Sometimes you go through periods like that where you get some breaks."
Now that J.D. Drew is back on the active roster, Francona will have a harder time finding playing time for all of his outfielders.
It will be interesting to see how Francona divvies up the playing time between Crisp and Ellsbury, who has struggled of late, hitting .227 over his last 20 games.
As long as Crisp remains hot, Francona is likely to be able to find at-bats for him.
In typical Crisp fashion, he didn't want to have an elaborate discussion about it.
"You know me," said Crisp. "I don't like to talk about myself."
Lately, his bat has done plenty of talking.
Crisp and the Red Sox will have the challenge of facing Rays ace Scott Kazmir in this one. The Red Sox counter with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is 16-2.
"I don't think we really change our gameplan," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "We just want to have quality at-bats [against Kazmir]. He's an All-Star pitcher. It should be a good challenge. We have Dice-K, so that's good."
BOS: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (16-2, 2.88 ERA)
Matsuzaka threw 112 pitches in six innings on Wednesday against the Orioles, laboring through long at-bats and four walks and making it difficult to go deep in the ballgame with such a high pitch count. Matsuzaka is unbeaten in his past seven starts, going 5-0 with a 2.54 ERA, and has 28 strikeouts in his past 25 innings of work. TB: LHP Scott Kazmir (11-6, 2.99 ERA)
The ace picked up his 11th win of the season on Thursday night, tossing six scoreless innings against the Yankees. Kazmir allowed just one hit, fanning seven and walking five. Despite a solid performance, Kazmir has still struggled to go deep into games. He totaled 98 pitches (56 strikes) in Thursday's game and hasn't lasted longer than six innings on the hill since his win on July 21 vs. Oakland. He is still struggling to gain control of his slider which has historically been his best pitch. Kazmir will face Boston for the third time this season, looking to earn his first victory. In 19 games against the Sox, he is 6-6 with a career 3.02 ERA. Tidbits
The Red Sox are 7-0 against the Rays at Fenway, while Tampa Bay is 6-0 agianst Boston at Tropicana Field. ... Jason Bay has 19 RBIs in his last 18 games. ... Crisp has stolen 20-plus bases in all three seasons he's been with the Red Sox. ... The Red Sox have 14 shutouts this season, eight of which have come at home. Tickets
Buy tickets now to catch the game in person. On the Internet
Official game notes On television
NESN On radio
WRKO 680, SBN 1150 (Español) Up next
Wednesday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 12-9, 4.20) vs. Rays (Andy Sonnanstine, 13-7, 4.66), 7:05 p.m. ET
Friday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 8-10, 4.11) vs. Blue Jays (David Purcey, 3-5, 5.23), 7:05 p.m. ET
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.