BOSTON (AP) — Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon is patient when it comes to first place.
As much as he’d enjoy having the Rays leading the AL East, 61 games remain and Tampa Bay has gained enough ground over the last month to keep the ever-chipper Maddon even more positive than usual.
A 6-2 loss in Boston on Tuesday night ended a six-game winning streak that had pulled them within a half-game of the first-place Red Sox.
“We’ve been playing pretty darned good and I am not going to be negative or critical about our group at all. We got outpitched a little bit tonight,” Maddon said.
Jon Lester matched his season high with eight strikeouts and overcame homers by Wil Myers and Evan Longoria to keep the Red Sox in first place for the 58th straight day.
Boston scored three runs in the eighth to break open a 3-2 game.
The loss was just the third in 21 games for the Rays, a surge that began when they were in fourth place, seven games behind the Red Sox.
“Lester was good. Lester was a strike-thrower tonight like he has been in the past and that was a big part of their success,” Maddon said. “If we continue to play good baseball, we’re going to be just fine. And we did play good baseball tonight.”
Lester (9-6) gave up two runs and seven hits with no walks in 6 1-3 innings. He is 3-6 with a 5.97 ERA since starting the season 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA. Four Red Sox pitchers combined for 13 strikeouts.
Roberto Hernandez (5-11) allowed three runs in five innings and tied R.A. Dickey for the second-most losses in the AL. But it was the 28th time in Tampa Bay’s last 31 games that its starter gave up three runs or fewer.
“He kept us in the game and gave us a solid chance to win,” Maddon said.
Boston led 3-2 before scoring three runs in the eighth on an RBI single by Stephen Drew and a two-run single by Jose Iglesias.
Myers drove the first pitch of the second inning out to left for his fifth homer of the season, giving the Rays a 1-0 lead.
“That was pretty cool, especially to be able to hit it over The Monster. I got a good pitch and just ended up taking advantage of it,” said Myers, who missed the previous two games with a sore left wrist. “I wasn’t 100 percent, so I had to come out. I was glad to be back in it today.”
The Red Sox tied it in the bottom half on a run-scoring single by Mike Carp.
They went ahead 2-1 in the third on a double steal. Shane Victorino led off with a double and went to third on a flyout by Daniel Nava. Dustin Pedroia was hit by a pitch, then stole second as catcher Jose Molina threw down and Victorino scored.
The Red Sox left runners at third base in three straight innings before Pedroia gave them a 3-1 lead with a sacrifice fly in the fifth.
The Rays got another leadoff homer off Lester in the sixth when Longoria hit his 21st on the second pitch, cutting the lead to 3-2.
“Those leadoff home runs like that can turn into big innings if you let them,” Lester said. “I was able to settle back down and get some outs after that.”
NOTES: Myers is 16 for 32 in his last eight games. … Rays 1B James Loney’s single in the second was the 1,000th hit of his career. … Pedroia was the only Red Sox batter who went hitless. … Boston is 10-4 against Tampa Bay and has clinched the 19-game season series. The last time the Red Sox won the season series over the Rays was 2007. … Alex Torres pitched two scoreless innings and has allowed one run in 30 1-3 innings for the Rays. … David Price (4-5) pitches for the Rays against Felix Doubront (7-3) in the third game of the four-game series. … Rays RHP Alex Cobb threw only two pitches in his first rehab start for Class-A Charlotte against Dunedin. Cobb, sidelined since he was hit in the head by a line drive, was removed as a precaution due to a blister on his right index finger. … Boston CF Jacoby Ellsbury got the night off. He leads the majors with a .370 batting average since May 26.