|Rays help Red Sox ahead of matchup|
BOSTON -- Coming off a rare loss, the Boston Red Sox actually won on their off-day on Thursday.
While Boston had its second day off in four days, the New York Yankees were losing to the Tampa Bay Rays in the Bronx -- increasing the Red Sox's lead atop the American League East to a season-high 10 1/2 games.
The Rays, fresh off their first series win at Yankee Stadium in four years, now come to Boston, where the high-flying Red Sox sent Brian Johnson to the mound against another Rays "opener" in the first game of a seven-game homestand Friday.
The Cleveland Indians come to Fenway on Monday for a four-game series, the first of seven games between the potential playoff foes, but first it's the Rays, who come in a surprising 62-59 after winning their last two in New York.
Right-hander Ryne Stanek, who relieved in Thursday's 3-1 victory over the Yankees, will be the "opener" for the Rays on Friday night.
The Red Sox are 50 games above .500 and 11-2 in August as they have turned the division race into a rout.
They won the opener of a two-game series in Philadelphia before losing Wednesday night -- Drew Pomeranz failing in his first higher-leverage relief appearance.
Rookie manager Alex Cora addressed the team after the loss, lauding their work, especially their recent work as the record stood at 86-36. They followed a four-game sweep of the Yankees at Fenway with a 7-2 road trip.
"We'll take 7-2 on any road trip during the season," Cora said. "We went through a tough stretch and to do what we did, I'm proud of them."
Johnson is 3-3 with a 3.95 ERA this season, splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. He has worked three times (one start) against the Rays, pitching to a 13.50 ERA.
"Somebody asked me about J.D. (Martinez) and Mookie (Betts) as far as MVP on our team," Cora said Tuesday. "I know they've been 1 and 2, doing what they do. But if you start looking at under-the-radar guys who have put this team in a position to be successful on a daily basis, B.J. is one of them."
The current Rays are a combined 5-for-15 (.333) without a homer against Johnson.
Stanek, who has done well in the "opener" role, had two relief appearances in as many days against the Red Sox in late May.
Adam Kolarek entered Thursday's game in New York with the bases loaded and nobody out, got Greg Bird to foul out on the first pitch and then struck out Brett Gardner and Austin Romine to finish his first major league save. It was Tampa's eighth win in its last 10 games against the Yankees.
The Red Sox lead the season series with the Rays 9-4, but nine of the games have been decided by two runs or less.
The current Red Sox hitters are 6-for-14 (.429) with no homers against Stanek.
Blake Snell notched his 14th victory and lowered his ERA to 2.10 with five scoreless innings Friday. It is the most wins by a Rays pitcher since 2013, when Matt Moore won 17.
"It means a lot, but it just means we've been playing well as a team," Snell said. "... We're playing good team baseball and I've been able to pitch on days where we're winning."