BOSTON — David Price wasn't feeling it early in the game. Jeff Keppinger wasn't feeling well early in the day.
But by the end of the night, after Price threw a complete game for his 19th win and Keppinger hit a three-run homer to produce a 5-2 victory over Boston, all the Rays were feeling pretty good.
And feeling increasingly better about their late-season bid to get back into the playoffs.
"It should be real. It's real to me right now. I'd like to believe the players believe it's real," manager Joe Maddon said. "Listen, we just keep going 1-0, we're in pretty good shape. You've got to keep applying pressure.
"We talked about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the past — who are those guys? We've got to be those guys to somebody."
The Rays improved to 84-70 and moved to within 3½ games of the wild-card-leading Orioles, who lost to Toronto, and stayed within three of the A's, who won at Texas and have the second wild card, with the Angels also in the way. With eight games to play, the Rays also moved within five games of the AL East-leading Yankees, who lost at Minnesota.
Price struggled through the second and third innings, giving up six hits and two runs, one on an "embarrassing" balk. That was before catcher Jose Molina, who would leave with a right quad strain in the sixth and is day to day, suggested they revamp the game plan and ditch his cutter in favor of more curveballs and changeups.
The difference was dramatic. Price allowed only a single the rest of the way, striking out a season-high 13 and logging his second complete game of the season, and the fourth of his career, with 112 pitches.
He reached two milestones along the way, surpassing both the 200-inning and 200-strikeouts plateaus. He marked the occasions with a seven-starter group bump and a shaving cream pie from James Shields.
"The win is first and foremost," Price said, "but 200 innings and 200 strikeouts are pretty special. I'll definitely take all those."
Price, who lowered his major-league-leading ERA to 2.56, also improved his chances for the AL Cy Young award, earning an endorsement from Boston manager Bobby Valentine.
"He's got a shot at 20 games, 200 strikeouts and a lot of innings," Valentine said. "Great durability and competitor. Yeah, he can be a Cy Young winner."
Keppinger was so sick — feverish, achy, sore throat — he spent the last two days in bed, with head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield bringing medicine to his hotel room Tuesday morning. He spent the afternoon sleeping on a clubhouse couch and wasn't sure until late afternoon if he could even play, much less how long.
"I'm just weak," he said. "Worn down and tired. (Monday) was rough, (Tuesday) morning was pretty rough."
After Boston's Clay Buchholz walked Evan Longoria and Luke Scott to start the second, Keppinger was looking for one thing, a first-pitch fastball down the middle.
"And he gave it to me," Keppinger said. The three-run homer, his career-high eighth, gave the Rays a 3-0 lead. Keppinger singled in the sixth to start a two-run rally as well.
"He looked sick everywhere but at the plate," Maddon said.
And feeling a lot better afterward.