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Battle could be in cards

Rays have chance to gain ground

David Ortiz is none too pleased after flying out. David Ortiz is none too pleased after flying out. (Abelimages/Getty Images)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / September 9, 2011

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TORONTO - The odds are against the Rays catching the Red Sox in the American League wild-card race. But they can improve those chances dramatically this weekend.

After last night’s 7-4 loss, the Sox have a 6 1/2-game lead on Tampa Bay, and they open a three-game series with the Rays at Tropicana Field tonight.

“They’re catching up,’’ David Ortiz said. “I didn’t know it was that close.’’

The Rays, who were idle last night, have seven games remaining against the Sox, so this weekend series is critical. The Rays have won four of their last five games to stay in contention.

“We still have to get ourselves close enough to really make that impact, and we’re on the verge of doing that,’’ Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters in Tampa. “If we could get ourselves within striking distance, then I think people are going to start feeling our breath.’’

The Sox will start John Lackey against Wade Davis tonight.

“We could still make it really interesting,’’ said Davis. “It could still be an interesting ending here if we could put some pressure on them and win all these games. It’s not necessarily out of the question.

“As long as there is a little bit of hope there, I think you can still stay focused because it can get crazy. Baseball can get crazy pretty quick.’’

The Sox are 5-6 against the Rays this season, hitting .168 and averaging 3.8 runs. Otherwise, the Sox are hitting .289 and averaging 5.6 runs.

“It is one game at a time, but we have to go two out of three minimum and that’s just pretty much common sense,’’ Maddon said.

Despite the loss of several key players to free agency, the Rays are 78-64. That’s not a surprise to Sox manager Terry Francona.

“When you have pitching like that . . . they made some really good decisions,’’ he said. “We expected them to be good. I think it would have been a surprise if it were the other way.’’

Rotational spin Tim Wakefield is 1-3 with a 5.83 ERA in his last nine starts. But he will remain in the rotation and start against Toronto Tuesday at Fenway Park. Wakefield allowed five runs (four earned) in five innings against the Blue Jays Wednesday. He departed with an 8-5 lead that the bullpen gave away as the Sox were tagged with an 11-10 loss. Lackey is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday. “We do have the ability to see how guys bounce back from their outings before we have to make a decision,’’ Francona said. “It’s kind of in pencil. We need to see where [Erik] Bedard fits in. Things like that.’’ Bedard is skipping his next start because of a sore left knee. Wakefield has not won since July 24. He is one win short of 200 in his career.

Day of rest Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez were not in the lineup against Toronto starter Ricky Romero last night. Crawford was 2 for 17 against the lefthander and Gonzalez 1 for 6. But that wasn’t the primary reason. “When you give them a day off, you’d like to pick a day against a guy maybe they don’t see the ball well or something,’’ Francona said. “We went to Gonzy [Wednesday] and he was like, ‘Yeah, I’m OK with that.’ When he says that, it’ll be good for him. Give Carl a break on this turf, too, because we’re going to turf next. Just trying to balance getting rest and production. Try to do where it fits. I don’t care what Gonzy’s numbers are against anybody. That’s never going to be why he doesn’t play a game.’’

Mum is the word Josh Beckett did not make himself available to reporters for the second straight day since getting his sprained right ankle examined in Boston. “He got treatment and he’s feeling a little bit better,’’ said Francona. “That’s kind of where we’re at. He’ll be reevaluated over the weekend.’’ The team has not said when Beckett might be able to return . . . Conor Jackson is not yet ready to play, his right knee still badly bruised after he ran into the bullpen fence at Fenway Park Sunday. “He’s still a little sore,’’ Francona said. “Trying to get him over the hump.’’

History maker Jacoby Ellsbury hit his 25th home run Wednesday. He also has 36 steals, making him the first 25/25 player in team history and the first in the American League since Ian Kinsler of Texas had 31 homers and 31 steals in 2009. Matt Kemp (Dodgers) and Ryan Braun (Brewers) have hit those plateaus in the National League this season. Ellsbury has 103 runs, 41 doubles, 25 homers, 89 RBIs, and 36 steals. Only four other players in history have hit all of those marks in a single season: Alfonso Soriano (2002, ’06), Howard Johnson (1989), Bobby Abreu (2004), and Vladimir Guerrero (2001) . . . Marco Scutaro was 11 of 17 in the series and drove in nine runs . . . Last night marked the 18th time in 66 career starts Andrew Miller has allowed five or more earned runs.

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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