ST. PETERSBURG -- Rick Porcello kept the Rays bats in check for 7 1/3 innings and received enough run support to lead the Red Sox to a 3-1 win over the Rays on Saturday night at Tropicana Field.
The Red Sox (85-63) won for the eighth time in their past 10 games to maintain a three-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East. The Rays (72-77) lost for the seventh time in their past nine games, further diminishing their hopes of becoming the AL's second Wild Card team.
Porcello did not resemble a pitcher with 17 losses. Instead, he looked more like the hurler who won the 2016 AL Cy Young Award, which was apparent from the beginning when he needed just eight pitches to dispose of the Rays in the first.
"As aggressive as they are, you can use that to your advantage," Porcello said of the Rays. "But if you miss over the plate and hang a breaking ball ... they have a lot of guys who can hit fastballs and breaking balls a long way. You've really got to be able to expand and be effective and throw your breaking ball strike to ball and the fastball has got to be located well."
Porcello allowed one unearned run on five hits to notch a quality start in his 10th win.
"I didn't think he did anything out of the ordinary," Tampa Bay right fielder Steven Souza Jr. said. "I thought he got some generous calls on the outside part of the dish. You know, when you get some room out there to throw with a guy who can locate a fastball, you can get pretty comfortable on the mound.
"He did a good job of elevating the ball with four-seam and running it back with two-seam. When he can locate a ball, and he's got room to make error, he can be pretty tough to face."
Mookie Betts got the Red Sox started in the second when he homered to left on a 2-2 fastball from Rays starter Alex Cobb.
"[Betts] is in a 10-day run here where we're seeing the guy that we saw for two years leading into this year," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He gets a fastball the first at-bat that they try to run one in on him, and he's so quick in there."
The Red Sox added two in the sixth on an RBI single by Betts and an RBI double by Rafael Devers for a 3-0 cushion.
The Rays scored in the eighth when Kevin Kiermaier grounded to first with one out. Mitch Moreland stepped on the base and tried to retire Mallex Smith at second to complete the double play. Instead, his throw hit Smith and went into center field, allowing Adeiny Hechavarria, who had hit a leadoff double and advanced on a passed ball, to score on the error.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED That's a balk: In the sixth, Andrew Benintendi advanced to second on a balk by Cobb. The Rays' right-hander clearly was not happy with the call. Benintendi then stole third base without Cobb delivering a pitch, causing the Rays to pull in their infield. Cobb broke off a 2-2 fastball that appeared to be a strike, but was upset after home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson called it a ball. Betts followed with an RBI single to left on the next pitch to put the Red Sox up, 2-0.
"I felt like I had a good chance of getting there, he had a long delivery," Benintendi said of stealing third. "Just timed it up well, I guess."
After the run scored, Cobb chirped at Nelson and Logan Morrison did more than chirp as Nelson ejected the Rays' first baseman, who was not in the lineup. Dan Jennings took over for Cobb and the Red Sox added another run to take a three-run lead. More >
Reed to the rescue:Addison Reed relieved Porcello with one out in the eighth and runners at the corners. He retired the hot-hitting Kiermaier on a groundout to first, and might have escaped without a run scoring if Moreland did not commit a throwing error while trying to complete the double play. Hechavarria scored on the error. Reed kept it a two-run game by striking out Souza swinging to end the threat.
"I've never faced him in my career; it's the first time I'm facing him, so trying to be aggressive," Souza said. "He's got a little deception to his fastball. I put together a good at-bat and ended up chasing a cutter outside of the zone, unfortunately."
"Story of the game was Porcello. Obviously, he was pretty tough on us. He mixes pitches well enough, but really went fastball-heavy early in the game. Established fastball. Got us to speed up, and then when he needed to go soft later in the game, I think it benefited him quite a bit." -- Rays manager Kevin Cash
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Since being acquired from the Marlins on June 26, Hechavarria has a .985 fielding percentage. Before his arrival, Rays shortstops ranked 14th of 15 AL teams with a .959 fielding percentage.
WHAT'S NEXT Red Sox: Seeking a three-game sweep, the Red Sox finish their season series with the Rays by sending Eduardo Rodriguez (5-5, 4.19 ERA) to the Tropicana Field mound Sunday at 1:10 p.m. ET. When Rodriguez faced Tampa Bay last September, he struck out a career-high 13 in 5 1/3 innings.
Rays:Jake Odorizzi (8-8, 4.52 ERA) gets the nod in Sunday's series finale. Odorizzi s 3-5 with a 4.56 ERA in 16 career starts against the Red Sox, which is the most starts he's made against any Major League team. He's 2-2 with a 3.08 ERA in seven starts against them at Tropicana Field.