Any hope that the Red Sox returning to Fenway after their dreadful 10-game road trip would turn things around were dashed on Tuesday, as the team just kept their terrible run going. And keeping with the theme of the month, it was another gut punch. Boston got a mostly strong start from Eduardo Rodriguez, and even got what seemed like a huge, momentum-swinging three-run shot from Hunter Renfroe. A big missed opportunity with the bases loaded from J.D. Martinez felt like a turning point, and shortly thereafter two of their best relievers all year — Garrett Whitlock and Matt Barnes — totally melted down, with the latter in particular struggling as the Red Sox dropped yet another winnable game.
Coming off a road trip that represented the worst stretch of the season for this Red Sox team, also coming with some downright terrible timing, Tuesday’s return to Fenway marked a chance to put all of that behind them, and in the process try and climb back into the division race with three against the Rays. Going up against a talented but young pitcher in Luis Patiño, it was crucial to get the first blow and get to him early.
Red Sox batters were jumping on the righty’s fastball throughout the early part of this game, and they did get a solid single from Jarren Duran in the first, but then Xander Bogaerts hit a bullet that resulted in a double play to end the inning.
But the strategy of hunting fastballs and jumping on them paid off in the second inning, and right with the first pitch of the inning. It was Rafael Devers kicking things off for the Red Sox in that inning, and the first pitch he saw was a fastball down and away but in the zone. Devers was waiting for the velocity and ripped a laser into the bullpen for a line drive home run. It was a solo shot, but it gave the Red Sox the first blow in this game.
Now it was up to Eduardo Rodriguez to make sure that would be enough, at least for the early portion of the game. And the lefty had some good command right off the bat. He allowed a base hit on his first pitch of the game, but then retired the next six batters he faced — three with strikeouts — to get through the first two innings unscathed.
That brought him back out for the top half of the third, now pitching with a lead. But just as the Red Sox struck right at the start of their inning, the Rays did the same. Brandon Lowe swung at the first pitch he saw from Rodriguez, blasting a fastball up in the zone on the inner half for a towering solo shot down the right field line. And any momentum the Red Sox had went up in the air almost as quickly as it came.
The good news here was that Rodriguez really settled into a groove after that, not allowing the one mistake to snowball for the rest of his night. He’d end up retiring the next nine batters he faced, adding five more strikeouts in the process. The mistake he threw to Lowe did cost him, but he was lights out other than that and had eight strikeouts without a walk through five.
The thing is, we’ve seen these kinds of pitching performances still result in losses in recent games, so the offense needed to step up. They’d go down in order in the third, but then Xander Bogaerts led off the fourth with a base hit. It appeared they’d waste it after two quick outs, but Kevin Plawecki kept things alive with a walk, bringing Hunter Renfroe to the plate. He had a nice at bat, fouling off a tough two-strike pitch, and then he got a mistake. Patiño threw a fastball right down the pipe, and Renfroe unleashed on it for a three-run shot out to straightaway center field. It was the big swing this team has been searching for seemingly for a month, and it gave the Red Sox a 4-1 lead.
They’d threaten to add to that lead in the bottom half of the fifth as well, starting the inning off with a single and a walk before a ground ball put both runners in scoring position with just one out and Bogaerts stepping to the plate. It was a chance to really put a dent into this game, something they have failed to do too often in the second half. Bogaerts couldn’t get it done, hitting a fly ball too shallow to score the run. Tampa then put Devers on intentionally, giving J.D. Martinez a chance with the bases full and two outs. He got a good piece of the ball, but he hit it to the deepest part of the park as Randy Arozarena pulled it in in the triangle, ending the inning with the bases still full and the lead still at three.
And sure enough, the Rays broke up the perfect streak from Rodriguez with a leadoff double from Mike Zunino to lead off the sixth. After a ground ball moved the runner up to third, Rodriguez walked Nelson Cruz despite being ahead in the count 1-2, and then Wander Franco hit a base hit to bring a run home and cut the Red Sox lead to two. That would also end the night for Rodriguez, with Hirokazu Sawamura coming in with two on and one out.
We last saw Sawamura Sunday, where he was a big part of the meltdown. He was nowhere close to the plate, yanking everything right into the ground. The righty eventually left with trainers, but he was cleared by the medical staff and came into this one trying to put that one in the past. He did just that, getting a strikeout and a routine fly ball to strand the runners and keep the score at 4-2.
That was still the score entering the seventh, with Garrett Whitlock now coming in for the Sox. The rookie didn’t have it in this one, throwing almost all fastballs for some reason as well. He did start the inning with a strikeout, but then a single and a walk suddenly put two in scoring position with just one out. That brought Ji-Man Choi out as a pinch hitter, and he came through with a ball off the Monster in left-center field, bringing both runners home and tying up the game. Whitlock followed that up with a walk before managing to escape with the game still tied.
Boston made a couple of quick outs to start the bottom of the inning, but Duran used his speed to start the inning with an infield single before Bogaerts followed it with a single of his own to put men on the corners for Devers. He just got under it, flying out to the warning track to leave two more on and keep the game tied.
Whitlock then came back out for the eighth in something of a surprising decision, and the inning started with a base hit. He did follow that up with a pair of strikeouts, but after keeping the inning going with a walk, Whitlock was taken out of the game with Josh Taylor trying to finish the inning with two men on and Lowe at the plate. The southpaw couldn’t get it done, issuing a walk to load the bases for Joey Wendle. It’s a situation that felt like doom given *gestures at the last two weeks* but Taylor got out of it, inducing an inning-ending ground ball.
We were still tied heading into the ninth, and Matt Barnes came on with the top of Tampa’s lineup coming up. It was not the start Boston’s closer was looking for, with Arozarena poking a ground rule double out to the right field corner. Barnes then alternated strikeouts and walks for a few batters, eventually getting to a situation with the bases full and two outs as Francisco Mejía stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter. Barnes didn’t look like himself, starting the at bat with two changeups, which I can never remember him doing, before giving up a ball down the right field line. That let two runs score easily, and Hunter Renfroe misplaying a ball in the corner brought one more home to make it a 7-4 game.
Martín Pérez came in after that, giving up one more run and forcing the offense to put up a four spot to keep this game going. The Red Sox did not put up a four spot, or even a one spot, as they made it 10 losses in their last 12 games.
The 8-4 loss dropped the Red Sox record to 65-50. The Rays took a five-game lead in the division with the result, and we should probably start looking behind us in the standings as well. The Athletics, with whom Boston was tied entering the day, are currently knotted up with Cleveland in the tenth inning of their game. Meanwhile, the Yankees currently trail Kansas City in the seventh inning, and if that score holds Boston will remain two games up on them.
The Red Sox and Rays continue this series at Fenway on Wednesday, with Nathan Eovaldi set to take on a yet-to-be-announced Rays pitcher. First pitch is set for 7:10 PM ET.