Tue Jul 23 2:21am ET
If the Boston Red Sox are going to make up any ground in the American League East, the time is now.
Third-place Boston moved to within one game of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays with a 9-4 win on Monday night in the first of a three-game series in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Red Sox face the Rays and the division-leading New York Yankees 13 more times between Tuesday and Aug. 4.
On Tuesday, Boston will send out left-hander Chris Sale (4-9, 4.05 ERA) while Tampa Bay will counter with right-hander Yonny Chirinos (8-5, 3.29).
With the Yankees leading the Red Sox by 10 games, any chance Boston has to make a push into a wild-card spot likely rides on Sale returning to the form that made him a first-round pick (No. 13 overall) out of nearby Florida Gulf Coast University in 2010.
Sale pitched well in his last outing -- six shutout innings, 12 strikeouts in a 5-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on Thursday -- but early July was a wreck for the lefty, whose streak of seven consecutive All-Star appearances ended this month.
In starts against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 3 and the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 13, Sale was rocked for 16 hits and 10 runs in 10 1/3 innings as he was saddled with two losses.
Sale took the defeat in his lone start against the Rays this year after allowing four runs (two earned) in seven innings with eight strikeouts and three walks on April 28 at home.
In 19 career appearances (17 starts) against Tampa Bay, Sale is 9-6 with one save and a 2.94 ERA in 116 1/3 innings and has yielded just 76 hits while striking out 169.
Chirinos won his only start against Boston this season, allowing just two hits and no runs in eight innings in a 5-1 win on June 7. He struck out six and walked two.
The Venezuelan righty has made five appearances (three starts) in his career against the Red Sox and is 1-1 with a 2.88 ERA.
The Rays' struggles continue, but manager Kevin Cash is primarily concerned with his club's offense.
Spark plug Kevin Kiermaier (thumb) is on the injured list, and Yandy Diaz left Monday's loss with one strike remaining in the game after fouling a pitch hard off his left foot.
Austin Meadows doubled in the eighth Monday to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 13 games, but other than Travis d'Arnaud, who had two hits and drove in the club's first run with a double in the eighth, there has been precious little for the Rays to be excited about when batting recently.
From a pitching standpoint, Cash opted to use position player Michael Brosseau, who started at second base and had two hits, to work the ninth inning after the Rays scored three times in the eighth.
"It's a tough decision," Cash told reporters of pitching a position player in the final frame. "The grand slam, (getting the deficit to) four runs was the mark. ... We went into the game knowing our pitching was really taxed."
Brosseau's appearance didn't sit well with some of the Boston players.
"That's not something fans want to see, but it is what it is," outfielder Andrew Benintendi said during the Red Sox's radio postgame show. "But I know a few guys in here who weren't happy about it."
--Field Level Media