ST. PETERSBURG -- Though Alfredo Aceves was likely headed back to Triple-A Pawtucket after his latest quality spot start on Wednesday night, he could be pitching for the Red Sox again in a few days.
Recalled from the Minors specifically for this one start against the Rays, Aceves fired six strong innings to lead the Red Sox to a 2-1 victory in the rubber match of a three-game series.
Aceves allowed four hits and a run, walking four and striking out three. The right-hander threw just 84 pitches, 50 for strikes.
The performance was eerily similar to the one-start cameo Aceves made for the Sox on May 27 against the Phillies.
By coming up big again, Aceves made himself a top candidate to start one of the games in Tuesday's day-night doubleheader at Fenway Park against the Rays. The Red Sox would be eligible to use a 26th roster spot for Aceves in the twin bill.
"Oh, that's not my decision," Aceves said. "Like I said, we've got to keep the same momentum that we have."
With each start like this, Aceves makes his drastic inconsistency from earlier this season and much of last year a more distant memory.
The Aceves who has pitched the last two times for Boston looks a lot like the guy who was a highly-dependable swingman in 2011.
"Ace gave us a huge lift today," said manager John Farrell. "Six innings, one run allowed. You know, the third inning was the key. They lead off with a walk. A base hit -- first-and-third situation. That was probably the best inning of the night that he pitched for us."
All Aceves needed was a little offense, and his team gave it to him in the third, when Daniel Nava clocked a two-run homer to right.
Nava's heroics used to be a surprise. Now, they are just expected to the point where he's even making himself an All-Star Game candidate.
"He'd get my vote," said Farrell.
After getting ahead 3-0, Nava ended up working a 10-pitch at-bat against Chris Archer before launching a slider into the seats in right.
"I couldn't key on anything," Nava said. "I was just looking middle and trying to stay up the middle and then just it's just reaction."
Aceves seemed primed to make that slight 2-0 lead stand up. He cruised through the Rays' lineup early. Evan Longoria finally got to the right-hander in the sixth when he smacked a solo shot to center to make it a one-run game.
"He was just great tonight," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "The ball was sharp. The curveball was sharp. We were able to use everything for strikes. He didn't throw a lot of pitches either, so I think he had more in him. He did a great job."
Once again, the bullpen came up big for the Red Sox in a tight game.
Junichi Tazawa was dominant in the seventh, striking out two of the three batters he faced. Lefty Craig Breslow worked around a hit and recorded two outs -- both of them strikeouts.
Then it was Koji Uehara time. The excitable righty struck out the only batter he faced in the eighth and seemed even more fired up than usual when he roared through the dugout with high fives for everyone.
"I didn't know if he was going to make it," said Farrell. "I thought he tripped over the foul line. It's his trademark energy that he comes in and you hope he doesn't have too much momentum coming down the runway."
In the ninth, Andrew Bailey came on to redeem himself after a blown save from two nights earlier.
It started with a mini-scare, as James Loney led off by hitting one off the wall in right. However, it ended up just being a single.
"His bat path is kind of like [Mike Napoli's], so anything up has some topspin on it," Bailey said. "I knew he hit it pretty good, but I actually didn't think it would hit the wall. Shane [Victorino], he's Spiderman out there, so I thought maybe he'd make another great play."
Bailey settled down from there, earning his seventh save -- and first since May 26. It was just Bailey's second opportunity over that span.
"When your team's scoring a lot of runs, it's a good thing," said Bailey. "That's what we've been doing. It's nice to be able to win those close ones, too. It was obviously a big series win for us, especially going into Baltimore."
Meanwhile, the Red Sox head to their next destination feeling good about themselves, owning an American League-best 41-26 record.
"They're a good team," said Rays designated hitter Luke Scott. "They're a very balanced team, just like we are. You have to give them credit."