BOSTON -- David Price looks primed and ready to play the role of ace while Chris Sale is again on the disabled list.
The lefty continued his recently strong run with an impressive, seven-inning performance that led the scorching-hot Red Sox to a 5-2 victory over the Rays on Saturday night at Fenway Park.
J.D. Martinez helped support Price's effort by belting his MLB-leading 38th homer of the season, a solo shot to right-center in the bottom of the third.
But the story in this one was Price. In his last six starts, he is 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA.
"Excellent again," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "Fastball command, good changeup, a lot of strikeouts looking with that two seamer in to righties. He's been good, man. He's been good for us. We expect him to go deep into games and give us a chance to win and he's been doing that."
Truth of the matter is, Price has been an ace for much of his career, so filling the shoes of Sale shouldn't be as daunting a task for him as it would be for others.
"I'm making, $32 million? It doesn't matter," said Price. "That doesn't change what I'm doing. I've got enough pressure on me."
The Sox got Price an early lead with four runs in the bottom of the first and Price knew what to do with it. He allowed five hits and two runs, walking two and striking out eight.
"That's what great pitchers do," said Cora. "You get the lead, and you go deep into the game, flip it to the bullpen and get the W."
The key for Price during this run has been his pitch mix. That was again on display in this one, as he threw 61 fastballs, 22 changeups, 19 cutters and one curve.
"It makes it a lot easier to go out there and try to execute pitches knowing that you have your full repertoire and you've proved that and it's in the back of their minds," said Price. "I got away from that [earlier in the season], I got kind of one-dimensional, really making pitches on one side of the plate. And to go back out there and dominate both sides of the plate the way that I have, it's been long overdue."
Meanwhile, the 88-36 Red Sox are simply on fire. They've won 17 out of 20 and 32 of 38 and hold a 10 1/2-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Red Sox run, run, run: The Red Sox unnerved Rays starter Tyler Glasnow with their baserunning in that four-run first.
Mitch Moreland smoked an RBI double and then stole third without even drawing a throw.
Later in the inning, Martinez stole second easily. Moreland and Martinez aren't exactly known for their speed, but the Red Sox continue to have opposing starters scouted well. When Glasnow finally figured out what the Red Sox were doing later in the inning, he caught Ian Kinsler between second and third, and Brock Holt was also caught between first and second for a double play that ended the first.
"You do your homework and if you feel there's something going on that we can take advantage of, we do it," said Cora. "Mitch took off. He did a good job. And J.D., yeah. And then he made an adjustment and he got us. At that point, it's gonna happen. I don't mind that one. It looked bad, but it doesn't matter. We stole two, we put pressure on him and we scored four."
The Red Sox are the fourth team since 1961 to win as many as 88 of the first 123 games, joining the '98 Yankees, '01 Mariners and '17 Dodgers.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Saturday marked the first time this season Holt started a game at third base. But he looked like a natural when he made a tremendous play on a bunt by Carlos Gomez and was falling down as he fired to first for the second out in the top of the third.
"That's not an easy play. Especially with Carlos. You never know with Carlos. It's 4-0, he might swing for the fences, or he might try to bunt. His reaction was great. He created an angle and made a great throw to first base," said Cora.
HE SAID IT
"Wow. He has 38 homers, hitting .330, 100-plus RBIs. He makes everybody better not just by being in the box, but by making the hitters before him better. It's pre-game, it's with his preparation, it's what he does in hitter's meetings. When he speaks those guys listen. I really think Mookie Betts will win MVP of all of baseball and J.D. should win MVP for the Red Sox because of what he's brought to this team. It's not just the homers, the average, the RBIs but he makes everybody better." -- Price on the impact of Martinez.
With Sale back on the disabled list due to left shoulder inflammation, righty Hector Velazquez will fill in with a spot start in what will essentially be a bullpen game for the Red Sox. Velazquez, who isn't stretched out, threw 41 pitches while starting Game 2 of a doubleheader last weekend in Baltimore. This will be Velazquez's fifth start of the season. He is 2-0 with a 3.31 ERA in the previous four.