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Rays hit 3 HRs, beat the Red Sox 7-3 to tighten AL East race

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Yandy Díaz, Mike Zunino and Randy Arozarena homered and the Tampa Bay Rays moved within a half-game of AL East-leading Boston with a 7-3 victory over the Red Sox in the opener of a three-game series on Friday night.

Boston has had at least a share of first-place in the division since June 28. The Red Sox or Rays have been in the top spot since April 10.

“I love our chances,” winning pitcher Josh Fleming said. “We have the best team in the East, I think. Just because we are not in first doesn’t mean we don’t have the best team.”

Díaz connected on a two-run drive in the first. After Wander Franco hit a two-run double in the third inning, Tampa Bay went up 6-2 in the fourth when Zunino and Arozarena had solo shots off Martín Pérez (7-7).

“He wasn’t able to keep the ball in the ballpark,” Boston manager Alex Cora said. “That’s what they do. They work counts, work a walk here and there, but hit the ball out of the ballpark.”

Christian Vázquez and Bobby Dalbec had RBI singles off Fleming (8-5) in the fourth. Vázquez was thrown out trying to advance to second on his one-out hit, which impacted the inning when the next three batters, including Dalbec, reached base safely.

“We felt we were in the ballgame,” Cora said. “I think offensively it was a weird night, right? A lot of hits, a lot of walks, a lot of deep counts. Felt like we were one swing away from getting back.”

Kiké Hernández slammed his bat to the ground when he popped out with the bases loaded to end the fourth.

“I thought I did a good job once they got the bases loaded,” Fleming said, “Really just settled down and made two good pitches that got me out of it.”

Fleming allowed three runs and eight hits over five innings. Four Rays relievers limited Boston to two hits in four scoreless innings.

Tampa Bay took a 7-3 lead in the fifth when Franco tripled and scored on a wild pitch by Yacksel Ríos.

“It’s like playing in the World Series, you can never let up on them,” Díaz said through an interpreter. “You’ve got to be able go out there and focus right from the get-go.”

Pérez gave up six runs and seven hits in four innings.

Tough week

The Rays designated RHP Jake Reed for assignment, just days after his wife Janie Reed was part of the U.S. Olympic softball team that lost the gold medal game to Japan.

Janie Reed was the starting left fielder.

Jake Reed was claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers last Sunday and optioned to Triple-A Durham.

Tough stretch

Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez went 0 for 4 and has four hits in last 34 at-bats.

You have to be kidding

For the second consecutive game, a foul ball hit just behind the plate got stuck on an overhead structure at Tropicana Field,

Hunter Renfroe did it in the second off Fleming.

Arozarena had his foul against New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole disappear above the playing field on Thursday.

Trainer’s room

Red Sox: 3B Rafael Devers (leg) was out of the lineup. Cora said Devers is “ a go” on Satuday,… LHP Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery) will make his fourth rehab start for Triple-A Worcester on Saturday. … RHP Hirokazu Sawamura (right triceps inflammation) returned and allowed a hit and walked two in a scoreless seventh. … INF Marwin Gonzalez (right hamstring strain) started a rehab assignment with Triple-A Worcester.

Rays: DH Nelson Cruz (bruised right foot) started after being out of the lineup the previous two days and went 2 for 5. … RHP Nick Anderson (right elbow sprain) was scheduled to join Triple-A Durham, but didn’t because of COVID-19 related issues. … RHP Collin McHugh (right arm fatigue) had a bullpen session.

Up next

Boston RHP Nathan Eovaldi (9-5) and Rays LHP Ryan Yarbrough (6-4) are Saturday night’s starters.

Rays hit 3 HRs, beat the Red Sox 7-3 to tighten AL East race

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