BOSTON -- Timely hitting, some flashy glovework and a healthy dose of David Price led the Rays to a 5-1 win over the Red Sox on Wednesday at Fenway Park.
By winning, the Rays (60-42) crept to within a half-game of the first-place Red Sox in the American League East.
Price tossed his seventh career complete game, and his third of the season, allowing one run on five hits and no walks. All of his complete games have come in his last four starts, and he has not walked a batter in any of them.
"It's just a sharper version of last year," said manager Joe Maddon, which is a scary assessment of the ace, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.
"Right now I honestly feel like I can throw four pitches at any time," Price said. "They've definitely gotten better. My curveball was pretty good last year, but it's gotten a lot better this year. And my changeup is way better than it ever has been. Whenever I can have those two pitches and still be able to throw my fastball and locate that, my secondary stuff doesn't have to be that good."
Price threw just 97 pitches, 72 for strikes, for the third-highest strike percentage for a Rays pitcher in a complete-game effort since 1999. Even more amazing was the fact Price did it against the disciplined Red Sox hitters. He is the first visiting pitcher to throw a complete game with fewer than 100 pitches at Fenway Park since Chien-Ming Wang (then with the Yankees) on April 11, 2008.
"Yeah, I am, honestly," answered Price when asked if he was surprised to beat the Red Sox using fewer than 100 pitches. "This is the team that I feel has the best approach at the plate every day. They're the team that if they feel like a starter's struggling, they're not going to help him out by going out there and chasing pitches.
"They're going to make that starter prove that they can pound the strike zone before they start expanding the zone a little bit. I feel like that's what they did tonight as well. They're always tough. They always battle. Two strikes, they have a really good approach. Just foul stuff off until they can get something they can drive."
Following Tuesday night's loss, Maddon told reporters that a lack of success against Red Sox pitchers had been his team's Waterloo this season. So when the Rays had a chance to score in the third, they pressed into action.
Desmond Jennings singled off Boston starter Felix Doubront with one out and reached second when Doubront threw wildly to first on a pickoff attempt. Evan Longoria, who was moved from his customary third spot in the order to second in an attempt to snap him out of a slump, followed with a single to left to put runners at the corners.
Ben Zobrist then put down a bunt. Doubront fielded the ball and, thinking that Jennings would try to score on the play, threw home. But Jennings wisely returned to third and all were safe, loading the bases for rookie phenom Wil Myers.
Myers dropped a single into center field to drive home two. Zobrist and Myers then pulled off a double steal with Luke Scott at the plate, a move that played out well when Scott hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Zobrist and putting the Rays up, 3-0.
"It was by happenstance," Maddon said. "The situation just arose. Zo came up, we attempted that play, they reacted well, we didn't put the ball exactly where we wanted, but they made a good play. An even better play was what Desmond did. Head's up. He always has great baserunning acumen. He does the right thing there. Then Wil fights off a pitch in a good at-bat, Scotty [gets] the sac fly."
Boston tried to mount a rally in the fourth, when Shane Victorino hit a leadoff single. Dustin Pedroia hit a ball through the middle, but shortstop Yunel Escobar swooped over and flipped the ball out of his glove to Zobrist, who caught the ball with his bare hand, stepped on the bag and made a successful relay to first to complete the double play.
Maddon has been Escobar's biggest advocate since he came to the team in a December trade with the Marlins. Maddon has constantly talked about how he did not want to restrict Escobar's athleticism, and his point was driven home on Wednesday night, when Escobar showed what he is capable of doing in the field.
"I know he's done it before," said Maddon of the play that Price called the "best ever" behind him. "He plays it in his mind. He did it on a playground. He did it on some field in Cuba when he was a kid. He's done it in the Minor Leagues. And that's what I'm talking about. You do not want to restrict athleticism on the field."
Speaking through bench coach Davey Martinez, who served as a translator, Escobar said that he does not plan to make plays such as those.
"It was just a reaction play," Escobar said. "I'm just glad Zobrist was ready."
But it's not as though Price needed the help. After Boston scored its only run when Mike Napoli sent a 1-0 Price pitch over the Green Monster to cut the Rays' lead to two runs, Tampa Bay answered in the eighth with RBI singles by James Loney and Jose Molina to push the lead to four runs.
On Thursday night the Rays will finish their regular-season schedule at Fenway Park with a chance to move into first place.
"Good pitching beats good hitting, right? Right," Victorino said. "It's just part of the game. … Bottom line, we're still in first place. That's how I look at it. I'll say it again -- we control our own destiny. But again, give credit to where credit is due. David Price pitched a great game."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.