Rays-Red Sox Preview

Maybe a benches-clearing incident was exactly what the Boston Red Sox needed.

The defending world champions have yet to lose since Sunday’s fracas in Tampa and the Red Sox will get a chance to exact a little revenge Friday night when they open a three-game set against the visiting Rays.

With an 8-3 lead in the seventh inning Sunday and his team on its way to a three-game sweep of the Red Sox, Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar took third on fielder’s indifference. Escobar began pointing and shouting toward the Boston dugout and both teams came onto the field before order was restored a few minutes later.

Escobar, teammate Sean Rodriguez and Boston’s Jonny Gomes were ejected.

”There were some words exchanged,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. ”We’re down five in the seventh, so it’s somewhat a gray area when you shut down the running game.”

That defeat extended Boston’s losing streak to 10, its longest in 20 years, but it has rebounded with a season-best four-game win streak – all against Atlanta. The Red Sox (24-29) rallied for a 4-3 victory Thursday, scoring the winning run in the ninth inning when Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella failed to catch a force attempt.

A fifth consecutive win likely won’t come easily with David Price (4-4, 4.42 ERA) on the mound for Tampa Bay. The left-hander has gone 3-0 with a 1.41 ERA in his last five starts at Fenway Park, walking three and striking out 38 over 38 1-3 innings during that span.

He’s always handled David Ortiz, holding the slugger to a .216 average (8 for 37) with no homers. Ortiz was out of the lineup with a sore right calf Thursday but Farrell is hopeful he’ll return for this game.

Price, though, continues to battle inconsistency. He leads the league in hits allowed (83) and strikeouts (84) and could become the first pitcher since Detroit’s Mickey Lolich in 1971 to top the majors in both categories.

After posting a 2.57 ERA in his first three starts this month, the left-hander has allowed 11 runs and 16 hits over 14 2-3 innings in his past two outings. Five of those runs came in the top of the first Saturday against the Red Sox before Price settled down to allow one hit over seven innings in a 6-5, 15-inning victory.

Sunday’s win was a season-high fourth straight for Tampa Bay (23-31), but it ran into surging Toronto and dropped all three games. The Rays have been outscored 34-15 during a five-game road skid.

”It’s been pretty much how the season has gone to this point, but we’re going to change it,” manager Joe Maddon said after a 3-2 loss Wednesday. ”All these weird, awkward breaks, we’re just not catching them.”

They’ve won five straight against the Red Sox since losing the first meeting this season.

Brandon Workman (0-0, 3.18) makes his second start of the year in place of the injured Felix Doubront. The right-hander allowed three runs over five innings Sunday before leaving without a decision in an 8-5 loss.

In his only other start against the Rays on July 22, Workman gave up two runs over six innings in a 3-0 defeat at Fenway.

"The thing that stands out with Brandon is his ability to make a pitch in some key moments," Farrell said. "He keeps an inning from unraveling on him. I think that’s partly because of his maturity and composure on the mound.

" … We certainly would like him to pitch deeper. He’s not going to back away and pitch on the fringe. He challenges guys in the zone, and we expect that again come Friday."

Evan Longoria homered off him Sunday and is 4 for 7 with a double in their matchups.

Tampa Bay second baseman Ben Zobrist is scheduled to be activated after missing two weeks with a dislocated left thumb. He’s 3 for 3 lifetime against Workman.

Boston catcher A.J. Pierzynski had two hits Thursday and has batted .400 during an eight-game hitting streak.