The following simulation and images are courtesy of Out of the Park Baseball 21.
Our Fake Sox are finally playing some good baseball again, coming into Thursday night’s series finale in Tampa Bay having won four in a row and having just clinched their second straight series victory. They were now looking for a sweep if they could get a win in this one, but the pitching matchup did not lie in their favor with Bryan Mata taking the mound against Blake Snell.
Mata allowed three or fewer runs in three of his first four career starts and just one run in two of those, but he’s been fortunate for those results. His command has been a mess in every start. He was looking for some efficiency in this one, and he actually got it early on. Over the first four innings he allowed just three runners on two singles and a walk and faced just 14 batters. It was a very, very welcome change compared to his previous four outings.
On the other side, the Red Sox were having a little bit of early struggles against Snell, but also failed to take care of opportunities. In the second, for example, they got a leadoff double from Rafael Devers — which also extended his hit streak to 15 games — but they couldn’t get the run in from there, managing just a two-out walk after the two-bagger.
The game was still scoreless heading into the fourth, but the Red Sox would strike first here. Snell lost his control early in the frame to start the rally, walking each of the first two batters he’d face. Xander Bogaerts quickly followed that up with a base hit, and the Red Sox took a 1-0 lead. A strange sacrifice bunt from Michael Chavis then moved both runners to scoring position, and after a walk loaded the bases Chrisitan Vázquez came up and smacked a single of his own. That one brought two runs across the plate and gave Boston a 3-0 lead.
This was still the score heading into the bottom of the fifth, and this is when Mata started looking like the shaky rookie from his first four starts. He gave up two quick singles right off the bat to lead off the inning, and then issued a walk to load the bases with nobody out. Another walk then brought in the Rays’ first run before they pulled to within one on a single. This still left the bases loaded with nobody out, and Mata was in danger of giving the Rays a fairly significant lead after entering the inning with a 3-0 lead on his side. However, he snuck out of the jam after those two runs, getting a fielder’s choice with the out coming at the plate, a shallow fly out and another ground out to keep the one-run lead for Boston in hand.
It was still a 3-2 game as Mata came back out to the mound for the sixth, but the lead wasn’t meant to be for much longer. Brandon Lowe came through with a leadoff double for Tampa Bay, quickly moved to third on a fly ball before coming home on a Yandy Díaz base hit. Just like that it was a tie game. Mata did get a double play after that to end the game, but it was already a whole new game.
After the Red Sox then went down in order in the seventh, Mata came back out for the bottom of the inning. He gave up an easy pop up to left field to start the inning, but Andrew Benintendi made a crucial error to put the leadoff man on. That ended the rookie’s night, with Josh Taylor coming on now. He got off to a tough start, giving up back-to-back singles, the second of which allowed the go-ahead run to score as Benintendi’s error proved to be extremely costly. Taylor did come back with three straight outs to end the inning, but it was now a 4-3 lead for the Rays.
The Red Sox had one last chance in the ninth against Nick Anderson to try and score one more run. Jackie Bradley Jr. got things started with a one-out single, but then it looked like Vázquez grounded into a game-ending double play. Instead, Anderson’s throw to second was off the mark, and the Red Sox had two on with just one out instead of taking the loss. A wild pitch then moved the runners to second and third, and after José Peraza struck out it was all up to Andrew Benintendi with two outs. Diego Castillo came in out of the bullpen for this at bat, but he actually took it out of Benintendi’s hands, throwing a wild pitch of his own that brought the tying run home. That made it a 4-4 game, and we eventually headed into extras.
The first real chance in extras for either side came in the bottom of the eleventh when Ji-Man Choi smacked a one-out double. He’d eventually move to third on a two-out single, but he was left 90 feet away. Tampa Bay had another chance in the 13th when they got two singles with one out, but once again stranded the runners to extend the game.
The 14th was the most egregious of these missed chances. Parker Markel came out for a second inning of work and gave up a single and a walk to kick things off. Martín Pérez came on next, and quickly gave up a single with nobody out. It seemed as though the Rays were about guaranteed a win here. Instead, Pérez got a shallow fly ball and then two straight strikeouts to miraculously end the inning without a run coming across.
Unfortunately, the Red Sox offense just had nothing doing in these extra frames, and eventually the pitching was going to find a jam they could not escape. That would come in the 15th with Pérez back out on the mound. After a quick first out he gave up a single and a double, and after an intentional walk the bases were once again loaded for Tampa Bay. Pérez didn’t have the magic this time around, issuing a walk to bring the winning run home for the Rays.
The 5-4 loss pushed the Red Sox record down to 37-31 and snapped their four-game win streak. The Yankees also picked up a win which pushed their lead in the division to 1.5 games ahead of this weekend’s three game series at Fenway.
Down on the farm, Mike Shawaryn lasted only four innings in a loss for Pawtucket, Eduard Bazardo had a rough night out of the bullpen in a loss for Portland, Grant Williams hit a pair of home runs in a Salem win, Ryan Zeferjahn struggled in a loss for Greenville, and the DSL teams each won their games.