Red Sox set for crucial series at the Trop

Sox set for crucial series vs. Rays

BOSTON -- With momentum clearly on their side, the timing might finally be right for the Red Sox to end their near two-year slump at Tropicana Field.

Since the start of the 2008 season, the Red Sox are 2-15 under the roof of clanging cowbells -- not to mention the home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Red Sox will not only open their series at the Trop following a Monday off-day, but they will do so riding 10 wins over their past 13 games.

The Rays are in third place in both the American League East and Wild Card standings, trailing the Red Sox by 5 1/2 games. The Sox lead the Rangers by 3 1/2 games in the Wild Card standings and trail the Yankees by six games in the AL East.

This could be Boston's chance to truly put a dent into the postseason chances of the team that eliminated them in last year's AL Championsihp Series.

"It hasn't been real pleasant," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of recent visits to St. Petersburg. "Those cowbells stay with you for about a week, and we certainly haven't had a lot of success, but we've got a day to gather our bullpen and get some rest. It will be fun. It's a really exciting time of year to play good teams -- to play any team. But especially a team that has had their way with us down there. It will be fun to play."

Left-hander Jon Lester will open the three-game showdown for Boston.

"We just have to go in and win that first game and go from there," said Red Sox corner infielder Kevin Youkilis. "I think it's a big thing to go in there and win that first game. For us on this road trip, we just have to win each series and come back home healthy and keep doing what we're doing."

Though the Red Sox's offense has been in high gear of late, coming out of a prolonged slump, catcher Jason Varitek notes what the key will be, both against the Rays and for the rest of the season.

"First and foremost, we have to pitch the ball well," Varitek said. "This team is still going to rest on how well we pitch the ball. If we continue to do that and get quality starts day in and day out, we're going to win our fair share of games."

Pitching matchup
BOS: LHP Jon Lester (10-7, 3.60 ERA)
Unbeaten in his past seven starts, Lester yielded three runs on four hits over 6 2/3 innings in a no-decision against the White Sox on Tuesday at Fenway Park. The 25-year-old southpaw has posted a quality start in each of his past five outings, allowing three earned runs or fewer in 15 of his previous 16 appearances dating back to May 31.

TB: RHP Andy Sonnanstine (6-7, 6.61 ERA)
Sonnanstine will be recalled from Triple-A Durham to fill the gap in the rotation left by the Scott Kazmir trade, but Rays manager Joe Maddon did not commit to Sonnanstine for more than the one start, leaving that thought with a "wait and see." Sonnanstine began the season in the Rays' rotation before getting optioned to Durham on June 27. He has pitched well at Durham, where he is 5-3 with a 4.40 ERA in nine starts. He is 2-1 with a 5.08 ERA in seven career starts against the Red Sox; he is 13-9 with a 5.06 ERA in 31 career starts at Tropicana Field.

The Red Sox belted 50 homers in August, a club record for that month. The only time Boston has hit more long balls in a month was July 2003, when they belted 55, and July 1964 (53). ... Youkilis is the ninth Sox player to have 30 doubles in four straight seasons and the first since Johnny Damon (2002-05). ... Alex Gonzalez is hitting .314 over his past seven games. ... The Red Sox are 31-33 on the road as they embark on this seven-game journey through Tampa Bay and Chicago.

 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
• WEEI 850, SBN 1150 (Español)

Up next
• Wednesday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 14-5, 3.80) at Rays (Matt Garza, 7-9, 3.95), 7:08 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Red Sox (Clay Buchholz, 3-3, 4.38) at Rays (David Price, 7-6, 4.63), 7:08 p.m. ET
• Friday: Red Sox (Paul Byrd, 1-0, 0.00) at White Sox (Freddy Garcia, 0-2, 5.94), 8:11 p.m. ET

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.