The Red Sox have found the new worst loss of the season. There's too much contention for that this early in the season.
Joe Kelly starts often wind up as nightmares for the Red Sox, and that would once again prove the case on Tuesday. But this time the man-who-would-not-be-Cy-Young gave us a different take on things. This time, instead of giving up a bunch of baserunners, he left in the first after surrendering just two, the victim of "right shoulder impingement." That left the Red Sox bullpen with more than eight innings of work to do.
Keep in mind, this from the team that just saw the best parts of their pen blow up against Toronto. Morale was low.
But it was not the bullpen that would be found wanting tonight. Not at all. Fresh up from the minors, the Red Sox tasked Heath Hembree with the first shift in place of Joe Kelly. And boy did he ever deliver. Put into a 2-on, 2-out situation, Hembree picked up his first major league out of the season with a big K of Desmond Jennings. And then his second-through-tenth outs of the season as well. While the Rays got a leadoff ground ball from Brad Miller to start the second, Hembree responded with two more strikeouts to escape the frame, and then in the third got Corey Dickerson to pop out to end the frame after allowing a double to Evan Longoria.
All told, Hembree got the Red Sox into the fifth, and that's where Robbie Ross Jr. took over. He would actually have an even easier time of things, allowing only a two-out single to Evan Longoria in the fifth. Ross pitched three scoreless of his own, and with just two arms, the Red Sox had bridged the gap to the back-end of the bullpen.
Which would've been really nice if the lineup had done anything against Drew Smyly. Instead, it was one of those infuriating games where the entire team seems to, as a unit, forget that they are professional baseball players. This wasn't an instance of good contact finding gloves, as good Rays defense can produce. It wasn't about Smyly being particularly overwhelming. The Red Sox just plain sucked. They sent 26 men to the plate against Smyly, and produced just one hit and two walks, striking out 11 times.
As though to make matters more frustrating, those three baserunners had all come at once. In the bottom of the third, Smyly had come out wild, walking Chris Young and Ryan Hanigan to start the frame. Jackie Bradley Jr. singled up the middle behind them, but with the ball making its way to Kevin Kiermaier in a hurry, the Sox had to hold Young at third. Still, they had the bases loaded with zero outs. All they needed from the top of the lineup was a decent fly ball and it'd be Boston's lead.
Nothing doing. Mookie Betts grounded to third, and was lucky to escape with just the one out as Evan Longoria came home with the ball. Dustin Pedroia found Brad Miller at short behind him, and the Rays quickly turned two, ending the inning with Smyly still unscathed.
So even when Junichi Tazawa and Craig Kimbrel turned in scoreless innings of their own, it was not a Red Sox shutout win, but simply enough to send the game to extras after the Red Sox went down in the blink of an eye in the ninth against Erasmo Ramirez. That brought Matt Barnes in for the tenth, and when he threw a hanging breaking ball to Kiermaier, that was all it took. One long ball into the seats in right, and the Rays had their lead. It grew to 3-0 before the inning was over, but given how the first nine innings went, it goes without saying that the one was enough.
The Red Sox have dropped three straight games, and it's already the second time this year that's been true. They're back beneath .500, and there's barely a single damn thing that's going right in Fenway Park these days. Far from the team that put together that huge comeback in Toronto, this team is starting to look like a team that just finds ways to lose.