ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) - The Tampa Bay Rays tightened their grip on second place in the American League East with a nail-biting 3-2 victory over division foes the Boston Red Sox Tuesday.
Jeff Niemann tossed six innings and allowed just one run, while closer Rafael Soriano got out of a ninth inning jam to help the Rays surge a game and a half clear of the Red Sox as both teams seek to reel in the leading New York Yankees.
Soriano allowed a two-out RBI triple to Eric Patterson in the ninth as the Red Sox (49-35) pulled within one run, but the right-hander got the final out for his 23rd save of the year.
In-form Carl Crawford belted a solo home run in the eighth inning to give Tampa Bay (50-33) a 3-1 advantage after John Jaso recorded a go-ahead RBI in the fifth to break a 1-1 tie.
Crawford entered the night having recorded 15 hits in his last 35 at-bats and his blast ensured the Rays their fourth straight win and second in a row against Boston.
“We’re looking more like we did earlier in the season,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “I think we’re getting the proverbial mojo back.”
The Red Sox have been stricken with injuries and are without All-Stars Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez and Clay Buchholz.
Adding to their woes, slugger Kevin Youkilis had to leave the game in the fourth inning with an ankle problem.
“I was out in the field and it just felt like I had a cramp in my ankle, which is the most strange thing ever,” Youkilis said. “Somehow I irritated it and my whole entire ankle locked up.”
Outfielder Daniel Nava led the way with two hits and an RBI for Boston. Young starter Felix Doubront made just the second start of his career and took the loss after allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings.
Reporting by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Ian Ransom