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Red Sox 3, Rays 7: A bad start to a big series

The Rays take the first contest in a pivotal three-game set

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Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Red Sox underwhelmed many at the trade deadline this year, grabbing just Kyle Schwarber, who is a great hitter but has an unclear fit with this roster, and a pair of underwhelming relievers. But they did have a chance to ease everyone’s anxiety over this weekend, playing a massive three-game series against the Rays, with whom they are locked in a close race for the division. Given how important these games are, with just two months left in the season, and the underwhelmed feeling from much of the fanbase, this was a perfect game to come out firing and get things started on the right foot.

Instead, they let the Rays do just that. The Red Sox started the first inning with a leadoff single, but then managed nothing after that, leaving Martín Pérez to try and keep the game scoreless into the second. He did not succeed. After grabbing a pair of quick outs, the southpaw kept the inning alive with a walk to Austin Meadows, and that brought Yandy Díaz to the plate. The first pitch he saw was a cutter that ran in on the inside corner but stayed belt-high, and Díaz launched a high fly ball that clear the wall into the seats. With that swing, the Rays took the early momentum and the 2-0 lead.

Neither side managed to get much of anything going in the second, but after the Red Sox again grabbed a single and nothing more in the top of the third, the Rays got things going. This time it was a one-out single from Nelson Cruz, and Díaz would keep the inning alive a couple batters later with a single of his own. That brought Wander Franco to the plate with two men on and two outs, a chance for Tampa Bay to take a bit more of a commanding lead in this game. They did just that, as Franco ripped a double out to center field, bringing home both runs and doubling the Rays’ lead to four.

The Red Sox were finally able to provide some answer to them after that, grabbing an infield single from Xander Bogaerts to start off the fourth inning. A couple batters later, Hunter Renfroe drew a walk, and Christian Vázquez followed that up with a base hit to bring home Boston’s first run. The good news is he brought the run home. The bad news is Vázquez was cut down at second base for the second out of the inning. The Red Sox did, however, get another base hit, this one from Bobby Dalbec, to bring home a second run and cut the Rays’ lead in half with a 4-2 score. They had a chance for more after that as a single and a walk loaded the bases for the top of the inning, but Kiké Hernández failed to get the big swing that could have changed the whole game. Instead, he popped one up over to third base for the final out of the inning, with his team still down by two.

And sure enough, the Rays were able to answer right back and maintain control of this game. Mike Zunino was the second batter of the inning, and he got a cutter from Pérez that, like the one to Díaz, stayed belt high. This one was on the outer half, but the result was the same with the Tampa Bay catcher sending it the other way for a solo shot, bringing the Rays’ lead back to three. A couple batters later, Randy Arozarena came to the plate and he got another cutter that stayed too far up in the zone. He smashed it for Tampa’s third homer of the night, and got those two runs right back to make it a four-run lead yet again.

That was essentially the back-breaker of the game. The Red Sox grabbed one more run in the following inning on a Hunter Renfroe RBI double, but the Rays again answered back thanks to a Franco triple followed by a wild pitch from Yacksel Ríos. From there, the Red Sox really had no answers. They got a couple of two-out baserunners on in the next inning but couldn’t score, and that was their last best chance. Tampa’s bullpen rolled through the rest of the game and finished this one out.

The 7-3 loss came at an inopportune time for the Red Sox, and gave the Rays some momentum in this division race. The loss dropped Boston’s record to 63-42, and closed their lead in the AL East down to just a half-game. These two teams face off again tomorrow with Nathan Eovaldi going for Boston while Ryan Yarbrough takes the mound for Tampa. First pitch is set for 6:10 PM ET.