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Red Sox 1, Rays 6: No offense to be found in the opener

And the Red Sox drop the first game of this crucial four-game set.

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Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

This was a big series for the Red Sox down in Florida, playing four against the best team in their division while trying to maintain their grip on a wildcard spot. And getting out on the right foot was key. Unfortunately, as has been a theme in August, they couldn’t do it. Nick Pivetta wasn’t terrible, but had some bad luck and gave up just enough hard contact to leave on the hook. The real issue, however, was the offense. Being shut down by Luis Patiño and the typically-great Rays bullpen, Boston got a solo homer from Bobby Dalbec and nothing else in a rough start to this series.

The Red Sox have turned things around in the win column lately, even if it hasn’t really felt like it. They’ve won each of their last three series, and while these games have not really come against the best the league has to offer, a big part of being good is beating the teams you’re supposed to. Boston could have done more, but they won series and that’s typically the goal.

But starting this series against the Rays, with COVID starting to knock through the depth chart, they were looking for a strong start and early momentum. The offense was facing a pitcher in Luis Patiño who got the best of them earlier in this month, and they did get a little bit of early momentum. In the second inning, Bobby Dalbec stayed red hot at the plate, taking an 0-2 fastball down and in and cleaning it out for a laser beam home run. Leaving the bat at 114 mph, it was another homer for Dalbec and the first run of the night for the Red Sox.

That was really all Patiño ended up allowing on this day, however. The Rays rookie was able to keep Boston’s lineup off-balance for the duration of the night. They had only a single and the Dalbec homer through the first couple of innings, then were set down in order in the third. The fourth represented another good chance to add on after back-to-back one-out singles, but they couldn’t get either run in. Patiño would ultimately get through 5 23 while allowing just the one run.

So with the offense struggling to get much of anything going, there was a whole lot of pressure on Nick Pivetta to not only keep his team in the game, but try and save this bullpen. It couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. The first pitch he threw was a fastball up in the zone against Brandon Lowe, and the Rays second baseman hit a no-doubt shot out to center field for a leadoff homer. At the time, it gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Red Sox righty was able to more or less keep things in check for a bit after that, working around two walks in the second thanks to back-to-back strikeouts to end that inning. But there was a little more trouble to come in the third, when Lowe started the inning with a walk before quickly moving to second on a wild pitch. A couple batters later, Austin Meadows hit a base hit through the right side, bringing Lowe home and giving Tampa Bay their lead back.

It was still a 2-1 game in the bottom of the fourth, and this was just a killer of an inning. It started off well with two straight outs, but then Kevin Kiermaier kept things alive with a double. Pivetta then got Mike Zunino swinging, but Christian Vázquez didn’t get in front of the ball in the dirt. It got the backstop and Zunino reached, with Kiermaier moving up to third. That brought Lowe back to the plate, and he hit a little chopper that got over Dalbec. Yairo Muñoz was able to field it, but he didn’t have time to get the out at first, allowing Kiermaier to come home and make it a 3-1 game.

Pivetta then worked around a couple of baserunners in the fifth before coming out in the sixth with 97 pitches under his belt. It didn’t go well, as he allowed the first two runners to reach before Hansel Robles had to come on with men on first and second and nobody out. The righty proceeded to throw four straight balls to load the bases for Nelson Cruz, who hit a weak ground ball to the left side. Rafael Devers had a fairly easy play to get the out at home, but muffed the ground ball. As a result, the Rays went up 4-1, and the bases were still full with nobody out.

It was set up for Tampa to really take control of the game here, but Robles came through. He induced a big pop up in shallow left field, keeping the runner at third put, and then he struck out both Austin Meadows and Yandy Díaz to somehow only allow one run in the inning.

But for it to matter, the offense was going to need to snap out of its funk. They managed just a single in the seventh, though, and after a scoreless inning from Raynel Espinal in his big-league debut, the bats had just six more outs on the board, trailing by three.

They’d go down in order against Peter Fairbanks in the eighth. After Espinal came back out and allowed two runs in the eighth, the offense had to score five runs to tie. They instead sent just three batters to the plate in the ninth to end the game.

The 6-1 loss dropped the Red Sox record to 75-58. They started the day trailing the Yankees by two games for the top wildcard spot and leading the Athletics by 2.5 games for the second spot. New York currently holds an early lead over the Angels, while Oakland is off and has closed that gap to two games.

The Red Sox will try to bounce back with a win on Tuesday, though neither side has announced a starter yet. The game will start at 7:10 PM ET.