Jon Lester and the Boston Red Sox pay a visit to Tropicana Field on Friday night to kick off a three-game series against David Price and the Tampa Bay Rays.
With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaching and both teams at the bottom of the American League East standings, this, however unlikely, has the potential to be the last start for Lester in a Red Sox uniform and for Price in a Rays uniform.
Both pitchers are 10-7 on the season.
"I just try to make sure I go out and pitch well for these guys in here," Lester said. "If these guys are happy with the way I'm throwing and how I'm going about my business, that's all I care about. Like I've said in the past, that other stuff will take care of itself."
Boston's ace has gone 6-1 with a 1.67 ERA over his last 10 starts and has not allowed an earned run in three of his last four outings. Lester pitched eight shutout innings against Kansas City in his last start, as he allowed just four hits while striking out eight and walking two batters.
Meanwhile, Price has won each of his last five starts. He boasts a 1.72 ERA over his last 10 outings and has completed eight innings seven times in that span. Most recently, he held the Minnesota Twins off the scoreboard for eight frames on Saturday, yielding only four hits while striking out nine and walking nobody.
This marks the first time Price has faced the Red Sox since hitting David Ortiz with a pitch on May 30, which prompted a benches-clearing brawl. The bad blood between the two goes back to Game 2 of last year's ALDS, when Ortiz homered twice off Price and drew the left-hander's ire by admiring one of the shots.
"I have no more respect for him," Ortiz said following the May incident. "Last year, we kick his (butt) in the playoffs. ... First at-bat of this season, he drills me. That means it's war. It's on. Next time he better bring the gloves."
However, Ortiz injured his back on a check swing late in Thursday's game in Toronto and is considered day to day with back spasms, according to manager John Farrell. It would be a big blow for Boston's lineup if the slugger cannot go, considering Ortiz blasted four home runs and drove in eight runs during the four-game series against the Blue Jays.
Boston is coming off three straight losses in Toronto, including Thursday's 8-0 setback. The Red Sox offense managed only one hit for the game, while starter Rubby De La Rosa was chased after coughing up seven runs (six earned) in only four innings.
Tampa Bay has won a season-best seven in a row as the team now begins a nine- game homestand.
The Rays had Thursday off after they shut out St. Louis by a 3-0 margin a day earlier. Alex Cobb tossed seven shutout frames while notching seven strikeouts, and he also collected his first big league hit with an RBI double in the second inning.
Now, it is Price's turn to try to keep the Rays' streak going.
"We need to win. Period," Price said. "We need to continue to play the baseball that we have."
Tampa Bay is 5-4 against Boston this season, although the Red Sox have outscored Tampa Bay by a 37-30 margin in those meetings. The two teams have occupied the bottom two spots in the AL East since May 16.