Coming off two straight wins over the Indians to salvage a split in that series, the Red Sox were looking to carry a little momentum into Tampa Bay. That hope didn’t last too long. Boston hasn’t really been blown out very often this year, as most of their losses have at least been entertaining to the end. This was not one of those nights, as Hector Velazquez let the floodgates open in the third and the Rays maintained a large lead through the end. It happens and isn’t really a reason to worry — particularly with Velazquez likely getting no more than one more start before Eduardo Rodriguez returns — but it still wasn’t very fun to watch.
This was....not a great day for Hector Velazquez, who has been forced into the rotation for a bit with both Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale on the shelf. He’s been largely solid this year, and while there’s certainly been some luck involved he’s also shown off good command to induce some weaker contact. That being said, he doesn’t have a pitch with which he can get strikeouts, and that can lead to serious trouble. That’s exactly went down on Friday.
The righty did have a good first inning, to his credit, setting the Rays down 1-2-3. Unfortunately, things went downhill pretty quickly after that. Tampa got off to a quick start in the bottom half of the second when Ji-Man Choi ripped a leadoff double and Willy Adames followed that up with a walk. Velazquez did get a strikeout in the next at bat, but then the Rays got a double steal to move both runners into scoring position. From there, Carlos Gomez hit a chopper to third base, and Eduardo Núñez took the easy out at first. I was fine with him not going for the play at the plate — it was going to be close either way and would have taken a perfect throw. This early in a game I’m fine with not taking that chance — but it seemed he had an easy out on Adames in between second and third, but opted to get the batter at first. That pushed Adames to third, but it wouldn’t matter because after a walk Velazquez allowed yet another double and the Rays had two more runs. Just like that, it was 3-0.
The offense was, once again, struggling against Diego Castillo in the opener role. They went down in order in the first with two strikeouts, though they did get to him a bit in the second. Xander Bogaerts and Núñez each got singles to put runners on the corners with two outs, and that’s when Jalen Beeks entered the game to face Blake Swihart. The catcher could’t come through, popping out to the second baseman to strand the runners and keep the score knotted at zero, at least at the time.
They entered the third trailing by three and looking to get some of that momentum back, and they were able to do just that against Beeks. Mookie Betts started that rally with a one-out walk, and a pair of infield singles to Matt Duffy at third base loaded the bases with two outs for Bogaerts. He came through as he so often has in these situations, ripping a two-run single into left field to cut the deficit to one. That gave Ian Kinsler a chance to keep the rally going, but he could not and the Sox had to settle for the two runs.
This is where everything started crashing and burning for Velazquez, and really just for the Red Sox. The inning started with a single — get used to that — but it didn’t matter much because Duffy was quickly caught stealing second. After a strikeout gave Velazquez two outs with nobody on, the floodgates opened. Choi singled. Then Adames singled. Then, with two on, Kevin Kiermaier singled, except it’s absurd that it was ruled a hit. It was a routine grounder to first that got under Steve Pearce’s glove and should have ended the inning. Instead, it scored a run and kept things going. After that should-be error, the Rays got three more singles in a row, and in the blink of an eye it was 8-2. There was some criticism of Alex Cora for leaving Velazquez in, and while I certainly wouldn’t have complained about a pitching change and believe the righty’s lack of strikeout stuff played a role, it was a bunch of singles. Either way, Drew Pomeranz came in after the Rays got their last single and ended the inning.
From there, things were pretty much settled as the Rays had taken complete control of the game. They added on two more against Pomeranz when Adames hit a two-out, two-run homer to straight away center field. Beyond that, Pomeranz was mostly solid, throwing 4 1⁄3 innings and saving the bullpen from getting totally wrecked in the first game of this series.
Joe Kelly got an inning of work as well, and he didn’t allow a run in the effort, though he did have to work around a couple baserunners.
As for the offense, they did get something going in the fifth and scored a run on J.D. Martinez’ 110th RBI of the year, but that was about it. They did load the bases in the eighth, but they couldn’t plate any runs. Fun night!
The Red Sox will look to shake this one off pretty quickly with the second game of this three-game set on Saturday. They’ll be sending Rick Porcello to the mound against another opener for Tampa Bay. First pitch will be at 6:10 PM ET.
As for the division, well, the Yankees and Orioles are still playing right now. They are in extra innings but Neil Walker just hit a go-ahead homer. If the Yankees hold on to that lead the Red Sox will lead the AL East by 8.5 games.