The skidding Red Sox were 6-19 in September before rebounding to edge the last-place Orioles.
After blowing a nine-game lead in the span of 23 days, the Red Sox will send former Augusta GreenJacket Jon Lester (15-9) to the mound against Baltimore tonight
in an effort to get into the postseason for the fourth time in five years.
Lester, Boston’s winningest pitcher, will be throwing on three days’ rest.
Boston will be looking to put together its first winning streak since sweeping a doubleheader from Oakland on Aug. 27. If the Rays and Red Sox remain tied after today, a one-game playoff will be played at Tampa Bay on Thursday.
Rookie Ryan Lavarnway became the unlikeliest of heroes for Boston, hitting his first two major league homers after being thrust into the lineup because of injuries to catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia (sore collarbone) and Jason Varitek (knee).
Lavarnway, a Yale philosophy major who never played a big league game before August, hit a three-run drive in the fourth inning and added a solo shot for an 8-4 lead in the eighth.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Marco Scutaro also connected for Boston, which scored all its runs on home runs.
Alfredo Aceves (10-2) pitched 32/3 innings of three-hit relief for the Red Sox, who survived homers from Baltimore’s Matt Wieters and Adam Jones.
RAYS 5, YANKEES 3
In Tampa, Fla., Matt Joyce belted a go-ahead, three-run homer in the seventh inning off former teammate Rafael Soriano as Tampa Bay defeated New York.
Nick Swisher’s RBI double gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead in the sixth inning, but the Rays averted further damage when Russell Martin grounded into a 5-4-3 triple play off starter Jeremy Hellickson.
It was the third triple play in Rays history and the first since 2006.
Jake McGee (4-2) pitched a scoreless seventh inning to get the victory. Kyle Farnsworth pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 25th save.
Ben Zobrist (two hits) lined a two-run homer in the second to give the Rays a 2-0 lead.
“We don’t feel like we have anything to lose. We’ve had a great run,” Zobrist said. “We’re hoping to cap it with a playoff berth.”
Johnny Damon singled and scored on Zobrist’s homer, passing Lou Gehrig for 57th on the all-time hits list with 2,722.
Soriano (2-3) had not allowed a run in his past eight outings.
New York general manager Brian Cashman reiterated how nice it is to be in a position to not have to go down to the wire.
“I’m not pulling for anybody. I know I’m glad that we were able to do what we did,” he said. “I know that both parties involved, Boston and Tampa Bay, are having sleepless nights. They’re hungry. Rather than have to live to through it, I think both want to fast forward it to see what happens. I’ve been there.”