In the center of the five-and-a-half hours long game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays stood John Lackey hitting Matt Joyce with a pitch, leading to the usual bench clearing event fans love to see (not that there were that many in attendance), but the bottom line was the AL East standing not changing by much.

The two teams don’t really like each other, that’s quite clear. But for Lackey to say he didn’t mean to clip Joyce in the back is insulting to the intelligence of anyone watching the sport, and once again, only 15,477 were in attendance to watch an enjoyable game, that was once again an example of how baseball draws out too long even the best of encounters.

Matt Joyce

We saw 32 hits in the 14 innings of play, with Daniel Nava putting the Red Sox up 9-8 with a single that brought Shane Victorino home before Jarrod Saltalamacchia finished the offensive job with another single that place runner Jose Iglesias took home to finish the job at 10-8. On the mound, it was Franklin Morales who eventually got the win after two blown saves by Junichi Tazawa and Andrew Bailey.

This was only the opening shot in a three-game series between the two teams, as the Rays, five games behind the Red Sox, try to climb back into contention in the AL East, now standing at 34-29. Things went awfully wrong for them early on as Alex Cobb lasted only four innings, giving up six runs, all of them in the first inning as the Red Sox took a 6-2 lead at the end of the first. Matt Joyce hit a home run of Lackey in that first inning, which set up being hit by a pitch later on.

I was just trying to come in there and get him off the plate a little bit. They were swinging at pretty much everything I threw up there. I was trying to get a little bit of the plate for me.  Playing innocence actually works for some people.

Daniel Nava

The Rays kept chipping away at the lead, eventually tying it at 6-6 after the 8th inning, but Saltalamacchia drove home two runners off of Fernando Rodeny in the 10th. The Rays came back with a home run from Jose Lobaton, and after loading the bases, a walk for Kelly Johnson brought another point, setting up another few innings before the Red Sox finished the job in the 14th, remaining on top of the AL East with a 40-25 record.

Expect the same kind of tension, and probably the same amount of hitting as this series progresses. The Red Sox are in the top 3 in baseball when it comes to runs, average, on base percentage and slugging, while the Rays are in the top 7 except for their batting average, in which they’re also a top 10 team.

Jon Lester will start next for the Red Sox (6-2, 3.60 ERA), looking for his first win since May 15, losing two of his last four starts, looking quite erratic over the last month, giving up at least three runs and a walk in each of his starts. Facing him will be Roberto Hernandez, who hasn’t been doing too well himself throughout this season.

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