The Red Sox have been steadily building their lead in the American League East over the past month, and they haven't shown any signs of letting up.
Tuesday's 2-0 victory over the second-place Rays put the 8 1/2 games up entering the second game of their three-game set on Wednesday night.
Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia wants to make sure that lead keeps growing.
"The hottest team wins," Pedroia said of postseason play. "Once you get in, it's whoever is playing the best. ... We want to keep our foot on the gas."
The Rays haven't much resembled a playoff team since they entered August a half-game behind the Red Sox in the AL East. Having lost 11 of 15, they now find themselves holding on for dear life atop a thrilling race for the second AL Wild Card spot, in which four teams are separated by just two games.
Tampa Bay sends Boston native Alex Cobb to the mound, looking for him to improve on his solid home splits (5-0 with a 2.93 ERA).
"This September time of the year is fun regardless, but -- it being even more heated with Boston coming in -- it's definitely a little bit of added adrenaline to the game," Cobb said.
In his last start against the Red Sox, Cobb allowed a season-high six runs in four innings. He has posted a 5.39 ERA in three starts against Boston this season.
"You don't have time to figure it out against these guys," Cobb said. "You have to come out of the chute 100 percent, executing everything."
Opposite Cobb will be veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster, who has strangely made just nine starts on the road this season, compared with 18 at Fenway Park. Dempster (8-9, 4.79 ERA) has won consecutive starts, despite allowing seven runs in those two outings.
Before the game, the Rays will honor the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the 12th anniversary of the tragic day. Wounded Warrior Andrew Harriman will throw out the first pitch, and a fire truck and police vehicles will partake in a pregame ride around Tropicana Field.
There will be a moment of silence before the national anthem and an in-game recognition of the first responders. The "We Shall Not Forget" MLB silhouetted batter ribbon will be displayed and both teams will wear caps with an American flag embroidered on the side.
While the Red Sox are on the road, the organization will team with the American Red Cross and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to host the 11th annual Day of Remembrance Blood Drive at Fenway Park from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Those who are eligible are invited to donate blood in honor of those lost in 9/11, and this year's drive also will commemorate the Boston Marathon survivors. The event is presented in cooperation with the Boston Police, Firefighters and EMTs. Appointments to donate blood can be made by calling 1-800-RED CROSS or by visiting http://redcrossblood.org.
Red Sox: Pedroia takes over in leadoff spot
Batting leadoff for the first time since 2009, Pedroia went 1-for-4. With Jacoby Ellsbury sidelined with a right foot injury, manager John Farrell said he's looking for "a guy that would see a lot of pitches," to take Ellsbury's place.
In his career, Pedroia is hitting just .253 in 324 lifetime at-bats in the leadoff spot.
"It doesn't change my approach or anybody else's," said Pedroia. "I liked hitting leadoff. I hit there basically my whole life until my second year."
Rays: Maddon not looking to past
Although the parallels between 2011 and this season certainly exist, Rays manager Joe Maddon doesn't want to connect those dots.
In 2011, the Rays were 6 1/2 games behind Boston with 20 games remaining, but came back to win the AL Wild Card.
"A lot of guys who actually lived that moment are not here," Maddon said. "And I'm not one to always talk about the past and try to conjure up those kinds of comparisons. Again, it's a new group of guys."
• Only three Rays hitters have more than 10 plate appearances against Dempster and they've all struggled: James Loney (3-for-24), Kelly Johnson (1-for-14) and Yunel Escobar (2-for-14).
• The Red Sox have been in first place for an American League-leading 139 days.
• Boston has secured a victory in the season series against Tampa Bay for the first time since 2007.