Rays ready for Sox finale; Percival unavailable
The Rays and Red Sox are readying for their final game of the showdown series and the regular season, though with the possibility they could meet again in the second round of the playoffs.
The Rays can expand their AL East lead to two games with another win tonight, the Red Sox can pull back into a tie. The Rays can also take another step with a win toward securing a playoff spot, with the possibility of clinching as soon as Friday with a couple victrories over the Twins.
*The Rays will be without the services of closer Troy Percival, who underwent the first of three scheduled epidural injections into his lower back Tuesday. Percival will have to have back surgery after this season, but is confident the treatment will have him ready to go "full throttle" by Thursday's game.
The schedule for the injections is a six-day interval in between, which is why he's unavailable tonight, but is planning to play catch Thursday in hopes to be available for five straight days before another injection. Depending on how he responds, the club will then decide if he needs a third.
Said Percival: "Anything to finish this out and get back to where I was at earlier in the year."
Facing Boston's knuckleballing nemesis Tim Wakefield tonight, manager Joe Maddon has tinkered with his lineup, using switch-hitter Willy Aybar as the DH and starting Justin Ruggiano in leftfield. Maddon said DH Cliff Floyd, who was hit in the right shin with a pitch Tuesday, is fine and ready, but they just wanted to go with matchups (Floyd is 1-11 vs Wakefield and Rocco Baldelli is 3-for-26).
Also of pre-game interest, Willy Aybar and Dan Johnson are both getting some work in the outfield with coach George Hendrick, which creates some interesting thoughts about the potential postseason roster.
On the Red Sox side, Mike Lowell - bothered by a nagging hip injury - is out of the lineup and is day-to-day. Lowell said he won't leave the team, but the club sent an MRI to a few specialists to figure out the problem.
The full lineup:
-- JOE SMITH