What is there to be said about this weekend that hasn’t already been said? The Red Sox really just couldn’t get swept. They obviously wanted to take the series, but as long as they won at least one game they’d still lead the division by the time they headed to Detroit for their next series. They got swept. The pitching was solid in this one, with Nick Pivetta keeping them in the game and the bullpen combining for 3 1⁄3 scoreless innings, but the offense did nothing. They got some baserunners, but the performance with men on the bags was once again underwhelming, and it led to a 3-2 loss, which in turn kept them in second place leaving town.
These last few days have gone about as poorly as one could imagine for this Red Sox team. After an underwhelming trade deadline that also saw some of the team’s biggest rivals improve, Boston has also performed disappointingly this weekend in a big series with the Rays. They just had to not get swept in order to keep first place in the division coming out of the weekend, but after dropping the first two that was a very real possibility. And with the Yankees and Blue Jays playing good baseball right now as well, the Red Sox are heading in the opposite direction as the rest of the division, and in more ways than one.
So that put a whole lot of pressure on the Red Sox, and on Nick Pivetta specifically, who got the ball for this series finale on Sunday night. The righty did the job for the most, and in fact it took Tampa a few innings to get any baserunners. Pivetta retired the first eight batters he faced, bringing him to the third with two outs when he issued a four-pitch walk to Mike Zunino, the nine hitter, to keep the inning alive.
It often comes back to bite you when put the nine hitter on base for free, and sure enough the no-hitter was broken up with a bang. Brandon Lowe came to the plate with Zunino on, and on a full count he got a hanging slider over the heart of the plate. It wasn’t a moonshot, but it just got up and over the wall in right field for a solo shot, giving the Rays their first two runs of the game.
And over on the other side, the offense just has not been able to get early runs of late, and that was a trend that continued here on Sunday. Going up against rookie southpaw Shane McClanahan, they grabbed a one-out single in the first, but then the next two batters went down swinging to end the inning without any runs. The second saw three more strikeouts, though one resulted in a passed ball and a runner reaching. But the Red Sox still did not score.
After they’d squander a leadoff walk in the third, they entered the fourth suddenly trailing after the Lowe homer. With the pressure mounting, they needed to get something going. It wasn’t enough for a lead, but they did get one big swing from Hunter Renfroe. With one out in the inning and the bases empty, McClanahan tried to get a 2-2 fastball by the Red Sox slugger up in the zone. Renfroe was all over it, though, and he put a charge into this baseball. The end result was a 427-foot laser beam out to straightaway center field, cutting the Rays lead in half.
That one run was all Boston would get in that inning, though they had a couple of batters reach right after the home run before leaving them on base. After Pivetta managed to maintain momentum with a perfect bottom half of the fourth, the Red Sox started the fifth with a base hit and the heart of the order coming up. But on the first pitch he saw, Rafael Devers grounded into a routine double play. That killed any potential rally in the inning, and only three batters would come to the plate.
Heading into the bottom of the inning, Pivetta came back out for Boston, but got off to a tough start with a leadoff single from Wander Franco. The runner would get up to second base on a wild pitch, and then a base hit from old friend Manuel Margot brought the runner home, giving the Rays a 3-1 lead. Margot quickly stole second to put himself into scoring position, but Pivetta got two straight outs after that before his night was over. There were a couple of tough mistakes, but ultimately it was a fine, if not dominant, outing from Pivetta.
With him out of the game, Tampa Bay still had a man in scoring position with two outs, as Josh Taylor came on to face off against Lowe. The Red Sox southpaw won the battle, inducing an easy pop up on the left side to end the inning.
New Red Sox pitcher Hansel Robles would come on in the sixth, making his first appearance for Boston after being acquired at the deadline. It was not a great start to his debut, as he gave up a leadoff single and then allowed Austin Meadows to get to second on a wild pitch. But the Sox would catch a break on the next play, when Meadows went to third on contact on a ground ball to shortstop. Xander Bogaerts easily cut him down for a big first out. Robles then get a ground ball over to the right side in the next at bat, getting a huge double play to keep the inning to just three batters.
Ultimately, though, nothing on the mound would matter if the Red Sox offense wasn’t doing anything. McClanahan was out of the game for the seventh, with Drew Rasmussen on for the Rays, and Alex Verdugo got things started with a leadoff double. It looked like Kevin Plawecki was going to get him home on the next swing, as he hit a rocket out to right field, but Margot made a great catch against the wall for the first out of the inning, with Verdugo tagging over to third base.
That brought Bobby Dalbec to the plate in a spot where he had to make contact, but he couldn’t do that, striking out swinging for the second out. Kiké Hernández then came up for what seemed like a huge at bat in this game, but it turned out they didn’t even need him. Verdugo instead was able to get home on a breaking ball in the dirt, cutting the deficit back down to one run. Hernández did keep the inning alive with a base hit, and Devers followed it up with a walk to put both the tying and go-ahead runs on base. J.D. Martinez had a chance to change the course for this team in the midst of a slump, but instead hit a routine ground ball to end the inning with the Rays still in front.
Garrett Whitlock came on for the bottom half of the seventh, working around some hard contact and two base hits for a scoreless inning, giving the offense six more outs to grab at least one run. They did again get the leadoff man on in the eighth with a walk, but that was all they got in another scoreless inning, keeping the lead in the Rays’ hands.
After Whitlock came through with another scoreless inning in the eighth, getting help from both corners of his outfield, the Red Sox had their last chance at the plate. They managed to make things a little interesting, following two quick outs with back-to-back singles, putting the tying and go-ahead runs on base, again, for Martinez, again. Just like last time, he couldn’t get the big swing, this time popping one into shallow right field, ending the game and the sweep.
The 3-2 loss dropped Boston’s record down to 63-44. The series ends with Tampa Bay up by a game and a half in the division.
The Red Sox look to put this terrible weekend behind them with a day off on Monday before kicking off a three-game set in Detroit on Tuesday.