BOSTON — David Price is in quite a groove, one perhaps even better than his 2012 American League Cy Young Award winning season.
Price pitched a five-hitter for his third complete game of the season, Wil Myers had a two-run single, and the surging Tampa Bay Rays won for the 19th time in 22 games by beating the Boston Red Sox 5-1 last night.
Price (5-5) needed only 97 pitches — 72 strikes — for his seventh career complete game. He struck out four and didn’t walk a batter.
Since returning from a 47-day stint on the disabled list because of a triceps strain, he is 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA in five starts — with three of the last four complete games.
“Absolutely,” Price said when asked if he is better now than any time a year ago. “Last year, I feel like I had complete control of two pitches. Right now, honestly, I feel like I have four pitches I can throw at any time.”
The 27-year old left-hander overpowered Boston’s hitters, relying on a hard mid-90s fastball and sharp slider to lower his career ERA to 1.96 in Fenway Park. That is the lowest mark among active pitchers with at least 20 innings there.
“I didn’t know what to expect when he came back,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s just hard to imagine a guy pitching better than he is now. I don’t think I’ve seen it in regards to quality of pitches and stuff, location against a good hitting ballclub.”
Even Price, 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA last season, feels like the club’s pitchers are dominating at an amazing pace.
“It’s just like hitting,” he said. “You hear it all the time — hitting is contagious. So is pitching. We’ve been on a good groove, It’s been fun. We feel like we have five guys that can go out there and win anytime. I don’t think there are many teams in the majors that can say that.”
Since dropping into the AL East basement by percentage points on June 23, the Rays have relied on starting pitching to go 22-5. Tampa Bay’s starters have a majors’ best 2.21 ERA during the run.
“He was throwing strikes all night long,” Boston manager John Farrell said of Price. “I think up until about the sixth inning he was right around 80 percent strikes, which is almost unheard of. He never gave us a chance to build any kind of inning. Tip your hat. He pitched one heck of a game against us.”
James Loney had two hits and drove in a run for the Rays. Tampa Bay moved within a half-game of the AL East-leading Red Sox.
Mike Napoli homered for Boston, which lost for the fifth time in eight games.
Felix Doubront (7-4) gave up three runs and six hits. He walked two and struck out six in 6 2-3 innings. It was his 13th straight game allowing three runs or fewer, the best stretch by a Red Sox left-hander since at least 1920.
“The bottom line is we’re still in first place,” Doubront said. “That’s how I look at it. Give credit where credit is due. David Price pitched a great game.”
Boston lost for the fifth time in 15 games against the Rays.
Tampa Bay jumped ahead with three runs in the third on Myers’ two-run single and Sean Rodriguez’s sacrifice fly. Myers’ bloop fell into shallow center after the Rays loaded the bases on two singles and a fielder’s choice.
In the seventh, Napoli homered over the seats above the Green Monster and out of the park.
Loney and Jose Molina each had RBI singles off Matt Thornton to push the Rays’ lead to 5-1 in the eighth.
Like in the opening game of the series when left-hander Matt Moore threw a two-hitter in a 3-0 victory, the Red Sox had trouble stringing hits together.
In the fifth, Napoli had a leadoff double, but the next three hitters flied out. Boston also had leadoff singles in the second and fourth, but Price retired the side easily both times.
Doubront had been 3-0 with a 1.83 ERA in his previous six starts, allowing two earned runs or fewer in all of them.
NOTES: Maddon juggled his lineup, moving Evan Longoria up to the No. 2 spot. “Hopefully he’ll see a different type of pitching,” Maddon said. Longoria had homered in three of his previous five games, but hit just .136 in his previous 18 with one homer. Maddon inserted hot rookie Myers in the cleanup spot. ... Boston sends John Lackey (7-7, 2.95 ERA) against Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson (9-3, 4.62 ERA) in the series finale on Thursday. ... Rays highly touted prospect RHP Taylor Guerrieri underwent ulnar collateral ligament surgery on Wednesday in Pensacola, Fla. He is expected to miss the rest of this season and part of next season.