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Red Sox 3, Rays 5: A frustrating end to the first half

It was not a fun Sunday afternoon in Tampa

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The offense’s performance on Sunday against Chris Archer was actually a bit better than some other recent performances from the Red Sox lineup, but the results were the same. Obviously, Archer is one of the most talented arms in the game, so if this was just a one-off poor showing from the offense we could more easily let it slide. When combined with the other recent no shows, though, it’s incredibly frustrating to watch even when you consider how well Archer pitched and how tough we know he is to hit.

With that being said, the Red Sox did give themselves chances to score more in this one. They simply failed to take advantage of said chances. Oddly enough, they wasted no time at all getting on the board against Archer. In the first at bat of the game, Mookie Betts got a hanging slider right over the heart of the plate and he deposited it into the seats in left-center field. It was his eleventh career leadoff home run, setting a new Red Sox record.

After that, it was all downhill for a while. After the home run, six of the next seven batters were retired. That brought us to the third, with the score now tied at one (we’ll get to that in a minute). It looked like the Red Sox might be able to do a little damage in this inning, as it started Tzu-Wei Lin and Betts both reaching to begin the frame. From there, Archer got two big strikeouts and a flyout to end the inning and strand two on.

Things would go similarly in the fourth, as the Red Sox got two baserunners after a quick first out. With runners on first and second, Christian Vazquez flew out to right field on an amazing diving catch by Steven Souza in foul ground. Somehow, Hanley Ramirez didn’t advance to third on the play. As it turned out, it wouldn’t matter too much as Lin grounded out to end the inning and strand two more runners in an opportune scoring opportunity.

After a relatively quick fifth inning, the Red Sox once again were bitten by inopportune hitting, great defense by the Rays and bad baserunning by Ramirez. This time, things started with a check-swing blooper from Ramirez with one out. After that, Jackie Bradley looked as if he got a hold of one on a fly ball out to left field. As it turned out, Corey Dickerson was able to make a leaping catch at the wall. Ramirez, though, thought it was definitely at least going off the wall and was caught on the wrong side of second base when Dickerson made the grab. The Red Sox first baseman would be doubled up at first base on an inexplicably poor baserunning decision.

To make matters even more frustrating, it wasn’t as if David Price had another bad outing where any offense from the Red Sox would have gone to waste anyway. No, the southpaw was quite good for most of his outing in his old home.

Things certainly weren’t perfect, to be fair, and he was particularly shaky early in the game. He started off his day by allowing a double to Steven Souza, and the Rays outfielder would score later in the inning on an RBI single from Evan Longoria. Just as soon as Betts handed him a lead, Price gave it back. In the third, he’d walk Souza to lead off the inning and followed that up with a double to Dickerson to put two in scoring position with nobody out. Things went much more smoothly than they could have, though, as the Rays managed just one run on a Longoria sacrifice fly.

In fact, after the double to Dickerson Price settled down in a major way. Starting with the sac fly from Longoria, the Red Sox starter set down the next eleven batters he faced. After a couple of two-out doubles in the sixth, he retired one more to finish his day with six strong innings. Price struck out five Rays on the day and allowed just the two runs on a couple of walks and five hits. Things could have gone smoother early on, but all things considered this was the third consecutive strong start from Price and it’s hard not to feel good about him heading into the second half.

This is when things took a positive turn for the Red Sox. With Archer still in the game and up over 100 pitches, Lin started a rally with a one-out bloop single. After Betts grounded into a fielder’s choice to give the Red Sox two outs, it looked like another wasted opportunity. Dustin Pedroia had different ideas, though. The second baseman fought for a tough at bat, and on the seventh pitch he blasted an outside fastball the other way for a go-ahead two-run home run. Just like that, the Red Sox had a lead and things were looking up.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The high didn’t last all that long, though, as Matt Barnes came in out of the bullpen and once again struggled in a high-leverage spot. The Rays sent Mallex Smith in as a pinch hitter, and Barnes made the mistake of walking him on four pitches. (It’s worth noting the first pitch very much looked like a strike, but given the control problems from Barnes the rest of the at bat it’s hard to blame this inning on the ump.) After that, he was given an out when Peter Bourjos dropped a sacrifice bunt to move Smith to second. From there, Barnes allowed a rocket towards the third base bag to Souza, but Lin made a nice play knocking it down. He had no chance of making the play at first base, and Smith made a nice heads-up baserunning play to move over to third with no one covering, but Lin saved a run by knocking it down.

From there, Joe Kelly came on with runners on the corners and just one out. He desperately needed a strikeout, a pop out or a double play. Instead, he allowed a fly ball in foul ground out to left field. Andrew Benintendi had a choice. He could let it drop and allow Kelly to try again for one of those three outcomes, this time with a two-strike count. Or, he could take the sure out and almost certain run with the speedy Smith at third base. He opted for the out, and Smith predictably scored and tied the game at three. I think it’s reasonable to argue Benintendi should have let it drop, although in the seventh inning I believe he made the right call to take the out. Kelly would escape the inning with the score still tied at three.

The Red Sox would get two runners on in the eighth, both with two outs, but couldn’t take advantage of it as Christian Vazquez went down swinging. It certainly seemed like an opportune time to use any of Sandy Leon, Sam Travis or Chris Young as a pinch hitter off the bench. Instead, Farrell stuck with his starting catcher and it ended poorly.

Kelly came back out for the bottom half of the eighth with the game still tied and started things off with a huge leadoff walk. He got two quick outs after that and then got Brad Miller into a 1-2 count. He couldn’t finish him off, though, and instead allowed a monster home run out to center field to give the Rays a 5-3 lead.

The Red Sox couldn’t get anything going after a leadoff single from Lin in the ninth, and that was the end of a frustrating game. Boston’s offense was too inconsistent again, and outside of a couple of big home runs they failed to take advantage of opportune spots. The good news is that Price is looking very good heading into the second half. The Red Sox lineup needs to be better after the break, but it looks as if the pitching staff is up to the task, at least. Boston ends the first half with a 50-39 record and leading the American League East.