Beckett Faces Rays

When you're a club that's never won more than 70 games in a season, it doesn't take much to make franchise history.

The Tampa Bay Rays are doing just that.

Off to the best start in their 11-year history, the Rays go for their first-ever three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox when the teams conclude their series Sunday at Tropicana Field.

Oddsmakers from have made Boston -122 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for tonight's game, the over/under has been set at 8.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 88% of bets for this game have been placed on Boston –122 (View MLB Bet Percentages). Bet this game.

Tampa Bay (13-11) has a winning record through 24 games for the first time in its history. The Rays have compiled that record on the strength of their current five-game winning streak - their first since Aug. 16-21, 2005. They have not won six in a row since July 28-Aug. 3, 2005.

They have also never swept a three-game series from the AL East rival Red Sox (15-11), or swept a series of any length from Boston at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay did sweep a two-game series at Fenway Park June 30-July 1, 1999.

The Rays' win streak appeared in jeopardy Saturday night until Akinori Iwamura's two-run homer off Clay Buchholz with two out in the eighth inning turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory. It was the second consecutive last at-bat win for Tampa Bay, which took Friday's series opener 5-4 in 11 innings.

"To play the Sox this well two nights in a row and come out on top, I mean, we've done it in the past and come out on the bottom,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I always talk about finishing things off, the last two nights we've been able to finish things off.''

It may be tough to continue the streak if Boston ace Josh Beckett (2-1, 5.12 ERA) is physically sound. The right-hander won 20 games in 2007, but has been limited to three starts this April due to various ailments.

Originally slated to start opening day, Beckett had his season debut pushed back to April 6 due to a strained lower back. Despite suffering from a flu bug that swept through the Boston clubhouse Beckett was expected to pitch against the Angels on Tuesday, but got scratched from that start because of a stiff neck.

"Josh thought he was feeling well-enough to pitch as far as the sickness went, but then his neck got real stiff and we thought we were putting him in jeopardy by putting him out there,'' Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.

Beckett's best outing of the season was his most recent, on April 17 at New York. He held the Yankees to three runs over eight innings of Boston's 7-5 victory.

He is 3-2 with a 4.26 ERA in five career starts versus the Rays.

The Red Sox, losers of a season-high four in a row, are trying to avoid dropping five straight for the first time since a six-game skid Aug. 25-30, 2006.

They may have to do it without one of their marquee sluggers. Designated hitter David Ortiz missed Saturday's game due to a bruised right knee, suffered while diving into first base during Friday's game. His status for Sunday is uncertain.

The Devil Rays will send James Shields (2-1, 3.30) to the mound for the series finale. The right-hander has yielded three earned runs or fewer in all five of his starts, including the 6-4 win over Toronto on Tuesday that began Tampa Bay's current winning streak.

Shields limited the Blue Jays to four runs - two earned - and six hits over seven innings.

He is 0-2 with a 4.64 ERA in four career starts versus Boston.

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