BOSTON -- David Price might not have thrown a three-hit shutout against the Red Sox the way Matt Moore did two nights earlier, but the performance was eerily similar.
Boston simply had no answers for the Rays' ace lefty on Wednesday night and lost, 5-1, to the red-hot Rays in the third game of a four-game series at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox, who once again saw their lead in the American League East trimmed to a half-game by the Rays, will try to salvage a split behind John Lackey on Thursday night.
"Hey, we've got to keep plugging, can't worry about tonight," said right fielder Shane Victorino. "Price pitched a good game. Tip your hat again to him, but we've got to go out there tomorrow and tie the series."
If the Rays, who have won 15 of their last 17, win on Thursday, the Red Sox would be out of first place for the first time since May 26.
"We'd like to stay in first place," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "I don't think there's any significance about it, like, if we don't win tomorrow, that's the end of the year. We've still got a long season to go, and we can get hot. We've been playing good baseball. The way things have been going, we have to come back tomorrow."
The Red Sox just hope that Jeremy Hellickson doesn't match the heroics of Moore or Price.
In this one, Price didn't even seem to break a sweat, throwing 97 pitches in the complete-game gem.
"This is the team that I feel has the best approach at the plate every day. They're the team that, if they feel like a starter's struggling, they're not going to help him out by going out there and chasing pitches," Price said. "They're going to make that starter prove that they can pound the strike zone before they start expanding the zone a little bit. I feel like that's what they did tonight as well. They're always tough. They always battle."
Boston's lefty starter pitched pretty well in his own right. Felix Doubront, who has been terrific in recent weeks, gave up six hits and three runs over 6 2/3 innings.
Doubront has allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his last 13 starts, the longest such streak by a Boston lefty in the live-ball era (since 1920).
"I feel good," Doubront said. "I think my fastball was a little bit off, but everything was working well. That happens. Price threw a good game. That's baseball. This game is in the past."
On many nights, Doubront's effort would have been good enough for a win. But in this game it was no match for Price, who has been in vintage form since returning from the disabled list on July 2.
"Good pitching beats good hitting, right? Right. It's just part of the game," said Victorino. "There's never a concern. You never want to look at it that way. You've just got to go out there and continue, try to salvage as many runs as you can, play as good of baseball as you can. Bottom line, we're still in first place."
The Rays rallied in the third, beginning with Desmond Jennings' one-out single. When Doubront made an errant pickoff throw, Jennings moved to second. Evan Longoria's base hit to left put runners at the corners, and a bloop single to center by Wil Myers sent home the first two runs of the game. Luke Scott's sacrifice fly gave the Rays a three-run cushion.
Price was brilliant and made that lead stand up, firing a four-hit shutout through six.
The Red Sox finally had a big swing against Price in the seventh, and it came from Mike Napoli, who hammered a solo shot into the parking lot beyond the Green Monster.
Boston's momentum was short-lived. The Rays rallied against relievers Pedro Beato and Matt Thornton in the eighth. Myers got it started with a one-out single against Beato. On came Thornton. But after getting a fielder's-choice grounder from Scott, the lefty gave up three straight singles. The latter two -- from James Loney and Jose Molina -- both drove in runs to push the Rays' lead to four runs.
This wasn't a complicated loss for the Red Sox. They simply were overmatched by a pitcher who had his best stuff.
"He was throwing strikes all night long," said manager John Farrell. "Up until about the sixth inning, he was around 80 percent strikes, which is almost unheard of. He had power stuff, stayed out over the middle of the plate, and with the exception of Nap's solo home run, he never gave us a chance to build any kind of an inning. Tip your hat, he pitched one heck of a game against us."