In a match-up featuring two American League East clubs riding lengthy losing streaks, the Red Sox fell to the Rays on Tuesday, dropping their fourth consecutive contest while Tampa Bay broke out of a five-game skid.
Nathan Eovaldi made his third start of the season for Boston to kick off this quick two-game set, and he was moving right along, retiring 11 of the first 13 hitters he faced before running into a bit of trouble in the latter stages of the fourth.
There, with two outs, the right-hander appeared to strike out Yoshi Tstutsugo on a 3-2, 96 MPH heater on the inner half of the plate that was not swung at. Instead, home plate umpire Randy Rosenberg ruled the pitch a ball, and the Rays third baseman took his base.
Perhaps that missed call irked Eovaldi a bit, because in the very next at-bat, he served up a line-drive single to Joey Wendle to put runners at second and first. That brought Hunter Renfroe to the plate, and the Rays outfielder proceeded to poke a pop fly to foul territory on the third base side that likely would have been caught by Rafael Devers in just about any other major-league ballpark. Instead, Renfroe’s fly ball made contact with one of the catwalks that line Tropicana Field’s roof, and it was ruled a foul ball.
Given another chance with a runner in scoring position, Renfore took full advantage just moments after the ruling, as he laced a two-run double to give his side a 2-1 lead.
Eovaldi did manage to escape the fourth without giving anything else up after that bizarre sequence, but the bottom of the fifth did not treat him much better seeing how Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe both drove in another pair of Rays runs to make it a 4-1 contest before the Sox starter put an end to things in what would be his final inning of work.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 85 (54 strikes) while striking out six, walking one, and plunking another, Eovaldi relied on his vaunted four-seam fastball more than 54% of the time he was on the mound Tuesday, inducing six swings-and-misses and topping out at 98.5 mph with the pitch.
Hit with his first losing decision while seeing his ERA on the year rise to 3.94, the 30-year-old hurler will get the chance to bounce back this Sunday against the Blue Jays back at Fenway Park.
In relief of Eovaldi, Phillips Valdez got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen in the middle of the sixth, and he was only able to record the first two outs of the inning while putting two runners on before getting the hook in favor of left-hander Josh Osich.
Osich, making his fifth appearance of the season, fanned Rays catcher Michael Perez on five pitches to retire the side in the sixth. He also recorded the first out of the seventh before yielding a single to Lowe, which resulted in Ryan Brasier entering this contest/
Brasier, on for his third appearance of 2020, allowed a single to the first man he faced in Yandy Diaz, which allowed Lowe to advance to third and subsequently score on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ji-Man Choi. The Rays went up 5-1 on that sequence.
From there, southpaw Jeffrey Springs gave up some loud outs in a perfect eighth inning of work to keep the deficit at four runs, although it didn’t matter in the end since the Red Sox fell in this one by a final score of 5-1 anyway.
On the flip side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against a familiar opponent in Rays veteran right-hander Charlie Morton, who had somewhat struggled through his first two outings of the new season.
That was not the case for Morton on Tuesday though, as the only run Boston got off the 36-year-old hurler came on a Mitch Moreland solo homer with one out in the second inning.
Per Statcast, Moreland’s third long ball of the 2020 campaign had an exit velocity of 96 mph and traveled 368 feet off the bat to the empty seats in right field. It also gave the Sox an early 1-0 lead.
An inning later, it appeared as though Boston was going to add on to that lead against Morton, as Jose Peraza led the frame off with a line-drive single and three batters later, J.D. Martinez ripped a double down the left field line that easily would have scored the runner from first had it not hopped over the fence.
Instead, Martinez settled for a ground-rule double, and Xander Bogaerts flew out to center to strand the two runners in scoring position.
Morton sat down eight of the next nine Red Sox hitters who came to the plate beginning in the fourth, and had the Rays known Michael Chavis was going to pinch-hit for Moreland beforehand, they likely would have kept the righty out there for one more batter.
Rather than that happening though, Tampa Bay brought in left-handed reliever Aaron Loup, and Sox manager Ron Roenicke countered by swapping Moreland for Chavis, who proceeded to ground out to short to put an end to the inning.
Fast forward to their last chance to push across anything in the ninth, and with one out and the bases loaded, Boston’s lineup was about to turn over once more as the Rays dispatched their closer Nick Anderson.
Anderson, a 29-year-old right-hander, is about as nasty as they come, and he showed that on Tuesday by first striking Peraza out looking on six pitches, and then doing the same with Andrew Benintendi in five.
Just like that, a golden opportunity for the Red Sox to claw back late in this one had gone for naught, and 5-1 would go on to be Tuesday’s final score.
Some notes and observations from this loss:
From MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo:
From The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham:
The Red Sox went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Tuesday. They left nine men on base as a team.
In positive news, J.D. Martinez went 2-for-4 with two hard-hit doubles off Charlie Morton, so perhaps he has found his swing once again.
Also, Jackie Bradley Jr. was at it again in center field.
Next up for the Red Sox, it’s the finale of this quick two-game set against the Rays on Wednesday evening.
Left-hander Martin Perez will toe the rubber for Boston, while fellow lefty Ryan Yarbrough will do the same for Tampa Bay.
Perez is coming off his best outing in a Red Sox uniform thus far, working 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball against the Mets in a winning effort last Thursday. The 29-year-old owns a lifetime 8.39 ERA in five career appearances (four starts) and 24 2/3 innings pitched at Tropicana Field.
Yarbrough, meanwhile, has got his 2020 season off to a hot start as he has allowed just two runs through his first two starts and 11 2/3 innings of work this year. The 28-year-old out of Old Dominion University has appeared in nine career games against the Red Sox, three of which have been starts. In total, he owns a lifetime 4.84 ERA when pitching against Boston.
First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI. Red Sox looking to snap a four-game skid.