BOSTON — Jake Odorizzi arguably was not as bad as his statistics showed in the first half of the Rays' season. And he realistically is not as good as the numbers say since the All-Star break.
But staying somewhere in the middle can be just fine.
Odorizzi gave the Rays another strong start Tuesday, and they parlayed that — plus a tying two-run home run by Luke Maile and a go-ahead blast by Evan Longoria — to score a tense 4-3 victory over the Red Sox.
The Rays (56-75) have now won three of their past four against Boston and pulled to within 7-8 for the season series, with another game this afternoon and three more in late September at the Trop.
In 19 starts before the All-Star break, Odorizzi was 3-5 with a 4.47 ERA, allowing a .745 OPS while averaging 18.44 pitches per inning.
In nine starts after the break, he is 6-0 with a 1.89 ERA, allowing a .641 OPS while averaging 16.08 pitches.
"In fairness to him, he's probably more in the middle, but I would say closer to what we're seeing now," manager Kevin Cash explained. "He made a nice adjustment right around the All-Star break and realized that the 25-pitch innings, they were killing him simply because he couldn't get deeper in ballgames.
"It wasn't that he was getting beat around, it was just the foul balls, falling behind hitters and really having to get out of big innings driving his pitch count up. He's done a tremendous job of getting the ball over the plate and attacking hitters and putting them on the defense."
The increase in strike-throwing has been a big part of Odorizzi's improvement. So was the rediscovery of his changeup, the heavily depended upon out pitch that was missing, for unexplained reasons, during much of the first half.
Tuesday, he allowed three runs in six innings, striking out seven while throwing 113 pitches, and overcoming a couple of bad breaks — a Hanley Ramirez home run that went barely 300 feet in wrapping around the rightfield pole, and a pop-up that dropped in behind first base for an RBI that stretched the Red Sox lead to 3-1.
"I told Odo when he came out that must've been the most unlucky performance of a starting pitcher I've seen this year," Cash said. "He had every right to be frustrated.''
Odorizzi didn't want to talk much about his bad fortune, but the frustration was obvious on his face and evident in his actions, as was the relief when Maile, the rookie catcher, hit the homer with two outs in the seventh that got him off the hook.
"I hung in there, but Luke was the one who made it all count," Odorizzi said. "Without that swing, we weren't back in the game.''
The Rays took a 1-0 lead, from a Kevin Kiermaier double and Brad Miller single, into the fifth, when the Sox got their first big break, the Ramirez fly ball down the rightfield line that carried just enough to be a home run.
They got one they earned in the sixth, on a walk, a double and a David Ortiz scorcher that Steven Souza Jr. making a diving catch on for a essentially a sac line out.
But they got another on a ball that Ramirez popped up and dropped behind first. Brad Miller never seemed to get a good enough angle to run it down, and neither Souza, who was positioned deep, nor second baseman Logan Forsythe, who was shifted over, could help. "No man's land,'' Cash said.
Odorizzi showed his frustration putting his hands on his head, then again after striking out Travis Shaw to end the inning, clenching his fist and then screaming something that didn't appear to be a nice word.
Still it was a good showing against the potent Red Sox, especially for facing them in back-to-back starts, allowing one run in a Thursday win.
"Odo was really good again,'' Cash said. "He was outstanding. Just a little bit of luck didn't go his way. ... The stuff and the way he attacked that lineup, that's saying something to do it twice in the last six days.''
Down 3-1 in the seventh to a Red Sox team battling to make the playoffs, the Rays showed some moxie.
After Tim Beckham singled to start the seventh, Maile, a 2009 Red Sox draftee who has family, friends and a home in the Boston area, delivered a two-run blow for his second big-league homer and his biggest career moment yet.
"That's definitely the highlight,'' he said. "I couldn't feel better about it, and I'm glad we got the win.''
After Maile got the Rays even, Longoria put them ahead, launching a ball over the Green Monster and all the signage above it for his 31st homer of the season, and his 25th RBI of August, matching Miller.
"Longo comes up and doing what he's done all year, gets a big hit, and hits another homer,'' Cash said.
Enny Romero ended up with the win for a clean seventh inning, and after Erasmo Ramirez zipped through the eighth, Alex Colome finished for his 29th save. Having allowed back-to-back homers in blowing a save on Friday against the Astros, Colome changed his approach Tuesday and went to his cutter early and often rather than leading with his fastball. He allowed two on, but struck out Sandy Leon looking to end it.
"Exciting win,'' Cash said. "Nice to come from behind.''