A showdown between the left-handed aces of the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox was won by David Price.
In the series finale, the Rays will aim for a series sweep when they take their hacks against a pitcher who has proven overpriced.
Struggling John Lackey must contain Tampa Bay if the Red Sox are to avoid a two-game hole in the AL East cellar by the time the Rays leave Fenway Park on Wednesday night.
Boston appeared to be turning the corner after an 0-6 start when it took two of three from the New York Yankees over the weekend, but the first two games against fellow slow starter Tampa Bay (3-8) have dispelled that notion.
After getting routed 16-5 in the series opener, the Red Sox wound up on the short end of a 3-2 score Tuesday as Price outpitched Jon Lester, limiting Boston to two runs and five hits in 7 2-3 innings.
The Red Sox are a major league-worst 2-9, matching the 1925, 1927 and 1996 clubs for the worst start in franchise history.
"We need a night like they had (Monday) night," Lester said. "We need a night where we show up and just pound the baseball and we do everything right. ... We're just not putting everything together. One night it's the pitching. One night it's the hitting. Some nights it's both. Nothing right now is clicking for us."
Tampa Bay's bullpen, which features almost entirely different personnel than last season, preserved Price's lead by pitching 1 1-3 perfect innings. Kyle Farnsworth retired pinch-hitters Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew and David Ortiz in order for his second save in as many chances.
"Those guys shutting them down right there at the end, that's pretty good,' Price said. "I feel comfortable with those guys going eight and nine, for sure.'
Signed to an five-year, $82.5 million deal prior to last season, Lackey (1-1, 15.58 ERA) thus far in his Boston tenure would only be a good investment were he paid for allowing baserunners - something he's done prolifically. The right-hander has permitted 336 runners to reach base against him since the start of 2010, the most among major league pitchers in that span.
Lackey has begun 2011 by allowing runs in eight of the nine innings in which he's appeared. Thirteen of the 17 hits he's allowed have gone for extra bases.
The former Los Angeles Angels ace gave up six runs, seven hits and two walks in five innings Friday, but was bailed out by Boston's offense and got credit for a 9-6 win over the Yankees.
Lackey has been a feast-or-famine proposition when facing the Rays over the past two seasons, posting a 12.89 ERA in three losses compared with a 2.03 mark in a pair of wins.
He'll be opposed by James Shields (0-1, 4.73). The right-hander yielded three home runs in six innings Friday at Chicago, allowing five runs but escaping without a decision after the Rays bailed him out with a five-run ninth-inning rally to win 9-7.
Shields is 5-9 with a 5.17 ERA in 16 starts against the Red Sox, but slumping slugger Kevin Youkilis is one Boston player who won't be thrilled to see him on the mound. Youkilis is 3 for 31 with 10 strikeouts in their matchups.
The Red Sox are batting .192 with runners in scoring position after going 3 for 19 in the first two games of this series.
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