The Red Sox have just a handful of series left on the docket before this disaster of a 2020 series is over, and all they have left is to play spoiler against a plethora of teams who actually remain in the race. The Rays aren’t going to be knocked out of the postseason picture, but Boston can at least make things more uncomfortable atop the division with a good weekend, and they got off to a good start. The offense was led by a pair of dingers by a pair of red-hot power hitters, with the first coming from Rafael Devers and the second from Bobby Dalbec. The rookie now has six homers in his first ten games. Mike Kickham only went four innings and served up two homers himself, but they were both solo shots and it was all he gave up. He also somehow struck out eight, something I saw with my own two eyeballs and still don’t really believe. Anyway, all that was enough for the Red Sox to win 4-3 and push their record to 16-29.
With a pitching matchup of Mike Kickham against Josh Fleming to open up this four-game set in Tampa, it was fair to expect a good amount of runs on the board. Fleming has been good in his first few starts, to be fair, but the stuff isn’t exactly overwhelming and the Red Sox offense has been trending in the right direction. At the very least, it was fair to expect the Rays to do damage against Kickham.
Instead, though, we saw a whole lot of nothing over the first couple of innings. The Red Sox managed just a single over the first two frames. The Rays did have a chance in the first when Manuel Margot got to second on an error, but he was caught stealing third on a bizarre delayed attempt. Kickham issued a walk and hit a batter in the inning as well, but worked his way out of that trouble. He then came back and hit another batter in the second, but that was all he gave up as he struck out the three other batters he faced.
So, things were still scoreless as we headed into the third, and the Red Sox got off to a slow start there as well with a couple of quick outs. The lineup turned over, though, and Alex Verdugo kept the inning alive with a base hit through the left side. That allowed Rafael Devers come to the plate, and he stayed red-hot. Fleming hung a breaking ball right over the heart of the plate, and Devers launched one way high and way deep, curling just inside the foul pole for a two-run shot, and the Red Sox had the early lead.
It was still a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth as Kickham came out on a bit of a roll. He had racked up six strikeouts over three scoreless innings. Well, the momentum left for at least a couple of batters. Hunter Renfroe led off the fourth for Tampa and Kickham left a slider up in the zone. Renfroe demolished it for a solo homer, and in the process he cut the Red Sox lead in half. That brought Brandon Lowe to the plate, and on the very next pitch Kickham hung another breaking ball over the pitch. Lowe punished that one, and just like that we were tied after back-to-back homers on back-to-back pitches. It’s not what you want. Kickham did come back with a couple of strikeouts and no more runners in the inning.
Now, the Red Sox were looking for another lead, and fortunately it didn’t take too long. And it was a familiar face who put them back on top. Bobby Dalbec stepped to the plate to lead off the top of the fifth, and on the second pitch of the at bat he got a changeup. It was actually a touch below the zone, but Dalbec was all over it and showed off his easy power for his sixth homer of the year and his fifth straight game with a homer. Pretty good!
Kickham, meanwhile, was removed after four innings — with eight strikeouts! — and Ryan Weber came on in relief. Things didn’t go super well for the righty. Margot led things off with a base hit, and he quickly made his way up to second base with a stolen base. With a runner now in scoring position, Austin Meadows busted out of his slump by smacking a one-out ground-rule double out to left field. We were all tied up yet again, and there was still nobody out. Fortunately, Weber settled down from there, getting a pair of strikeouts to end the inning with the score still tied.
Things remained knotted up heading into the seventh, but the Red Sox would get the offense going once again. This time it wasn’t the long ball, but a rally started with a base hit from Christian Arroyo, who would move on up to second after a Verdugo walk. That put two on with one out for Devers, and he came through once again. This time it was a single through the left side that brought Arroyo to the plate and gave the Red Sox a 4-3 lead. They couldn’t add more with runners on the corners, though.
Weber would come back out for the seventh, but wasn’t there for long as he got the first man out before making way for Jeffrey Springs. The lefty did walk a batter, but that was all and the Red Sox still led heading into the eighth.
After the offense went down in order in the eighth, it was Ryan Brasier coming on for the bottom of the inning. He’d work around a two-out walk to get the job done and hold the lead into the ninth.
The Rays bullpen shut down the Sox offense again in the top of the ninth, leaving it all up to Matt Barnes to close out the one-run game. That didn’t go well his last time out in Philly, and he didn’t get off to a good start here, issuing a leadoff walk that ended with a questionable (at best) ball four call. He came back with a fielder’s choice (on which Dalbec almost threw the ball into left field) for the first out, but that put Margot on first base and he’d quickly steal second base to put the tying run in scoring position.
Barnes then got Yoshi Tsutsugo to chase a curveball in the dirt for the second out, leaving things up to Meadows with two outs and the runner in scoring position. During that at bat, Margot moved up to third base on a wild pitch, putting the tying run now just 90 feet away. It wouldn’t matter, though, because he benefited from a borderline call this time around to get the backwards K and end the game with a win.
The Red Sox and Rays continue this four-game set tomorrow night with Andrew Triggs going up against Blake Snell. First pitch is set for 6:40 PM ET.