Well, so much for momentum. The Red Sox had what seemed to be a cathartic blowout on Wednesday, with the bats finally coming alive and scoring a whopping 20 runs on the night. That did not carry over to Thursday. Boston’s bats were kept quiet all night long against what was a bullpen game from Tampa Bay. Tanner Houck did his best to keep his team in the game, but the sixth inning proved to be a bit too much. The Rays took the lead there, and just continued to add to it against the Red Sox bullpen, putting the game out of reach in just a few frames.
When people get apprehensive about their team scoring a particularly abnormal number of runs in a game — like, say, when a team scores 20 one night — it is mostly tongue-in-cheek. Most don’t really think a team can “waste” runs, literally speaking. But also, there is a little part of that fear that is always right. Did they get all of those runs out of their system? You can never be too safe, so just to cover all their bases Boston was looking for a big start from Tanner Houck on Thursday to try and take this series against the Rays and give the team their first bit of real momentum in weeks.
Houck is part of what the team is hoping is a major turnaround for the rest of the way, joining the rotation on a permanent basis starting with this outing, as Garrett Richards and Martín Pérez have been relegated to the bullpen. And the young righty delivered. His command wasn’t always on point, leading to some deep counts and rising pitch counts, but the stuff was great. Particularly encouraging was that we saw a few splitters in the mix, and to my eye they were the best we’ve seen of that particular offering of his young career.
The Rays couldn’t get anything going in the first two innings of this game, with Houck setting down the side in the first before allowing just a two-out single in the second. He struck out two in that process as well. However, the third saw the first real trouble for the rookie, albeit not entirely due to his pitching.
Houck did let Kevin Kiermaier reach on a single to start the inning, and the Rays veteran quickly tried to get over to second with a steal. Kevin Plawecki, starting behind the plate in this one, never really had a chance on the throw but went for it anyway. The ball sailed into center field, getting Kiermaier over to third. Sure enough, he’d come home in the very next at bat on a sacrifice fly, giving Tampa their first run of the day.
Houck didn’t let the mistakes lead to a snowball effect, thankfully. One of the best qualities we’ve seen from him going back to his debut last summer has been his poise, and he let the error roll on by. Tampa only got that single, and eventual run, in the third. Houck then came back out and allowed just a single over the next couple of innings, striking out five in the process.
But, unfortunately we go back to that fear of wasting too many runs in a single night, as the Red Sox struggled to get anything going. The Rays were going with a bullpen day, starting with righty Drew Rasmussen. He kept Boston’s bats off-balance for the first three innings of the game, keeping the Red Sox off the board with just a walk to their name.
They’d start off the fourth inning, still trailing by a run, with their second walk of the day, both from Kiké Hernández out of the leadoff spot. But this time they actually did something with it. After a couple of outs following the free pass, Rafael Devers broke up the no-no. He jumped on a first-pitch fastball in the zone, ripping a double out to center field. Hernández was able to come all the way home, and the game was tied.
It was still a tie game heading into the sixth, with Houck coming back out to pitch. He did not have anything left in the tank, though, and the Rays made him work in the inning. Brandon Lower started the inning with a seven-pitch single before Wander Franco came up. He battled for 10 pitches before putting a charge into the 11th pitch.
It was a bit of a strange play from here, with Franco hitting it out to to left-center field. It hit just to the left of the yellow line at the start of the Monster, but then ricocheted out towards center field and landed above that wall. It was ruled a home run — I thought it should have been a double at first, but it was the correct call — and Tampa had a 3-1 lead. Houck then gave up a double to Nelson Cruz before his day ended. He was great for five, but that sixth was just pushing him a bit too much.
Josh Taylor came on from here, getting two outs and issuing an intentional walk before making way for Hansel Robles. The righty walked the first batter he faced to load the bases, and then he just barley went to the glove. It was enough for a balk, and the Rays made it a 4-1 game. Another intentional walk reloaded the bases, but Robles was mercifully able get out of it from there to keep the deficit at three.
Boston’s offense would continue to struggle after falling behind again, going down in order in both the sixth and seventh innings. Meanwhile, Tampa got back rolling again in the eighth, starting off with a triple against Austin Davis. After an intentional walk, Yacksel Ríos came on to try and get out of it. Instead, he gave up a sacrifice fly, a double, and then a three-run shot to Mike Zunino. That served to pretty much end this game, putting Tampa up by seven.
The Red Sox offense certainly had no chance at making up that deficit at their pace for the first seven innings, and sure enough that pace continued. The Red Sox went down without a run the rest of the way to lose the game.
The 8-1 loss dropped the Red Sox record to 66-51. They now head into the weekend trailing Tampa in the division by five, while the A’s opened up a two-game lead for the top wildcard spot with a win Thursday afternoon. New York, who entered the day two behind Boston, takes on the White Sox tonight.
The Red Sox now welcome Baltimore to Fenway in hopes of turning their fortunes around. That series kicks off on Friday with Nick Pivetta taking on Spenser Watkins. First pitch is set for 7:10 PM ET.