Lately, it seems as though the Red Sox have struggled to get out of their own way, and that was once again the case at Fenway Park on Tuesday night.
Opening up a pivotal three-game series against the American League East-leading Rays, the reeling Sox failed to make a statement and fell to their division rivals in yet another soul-crushing 8-4 defeat.
Eduardo Rodriguez, making his 22nd start of the season for Boston, provided his side with what they needed out of the gate by putting together a solid outing on the mound.
Over 5 1/3 quality innings of work, the left-hander surrendered just two earned runs on four hits and one walk to go along with eight strikeouts — marking the fourth time in his last five starts in which he struck out at least eight batters.
After Rafael Devers lifted the Sox to an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning by crushing his 28th home run of the year — a 390-foot solo shot that left his bat at 114 mph — to right field off Rays starter Luis Patino, Rodriguez followed suit by serving up a solo homer of his own to Brandon Lowe in the top half of the third.
That knotted things up at one run apiece, but the Boston bats struck again in their half of the fourth when Xander Bogaerts led things off with a single and later moved up to second on a two-out walk drawn by Kevin Plawecki.
Making Patino pay for issuing a walk with two outs, Hunter Renfroe punished a 2-2, 96 mph heater down the heart of the plate by depositing it 420 feet to dead center field for a towering three-run home run.
Renfroe’s 19th big fly of the season gave Rodriguez a 4-1 lead to work with, and he put together a scoreless fifth inning before running into a bit of trouble in the sixth.
There, a leadoff double ultimately did Rodriguez in, as he then issued a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz and an RBI single to rookie sensation Wander Franco, which in turn put runners at first and second and subsequently marked the end of the road for the southpaw as he got the hook from Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 82 (60 strikes), the 28-year-old did not factor into Tuesday’s decision, though he did lower his ERA on the season to 5.24.
In relief of Rodriguez, Hirokazu Sawamura got the first call out of the Boston bullpen, and he escaped the top of sixth inning by sitting down the only two hitters he faced in consecutive order.
From there, Garrett Whitlock took over in the seventh, brought the potential go-ahead run to the plate by giving up back-to-back one-out hits, and then served up a game-tying two-run double to the pinch-hitting Ji-Man Choi.
Tampa Bay pulled themselves even with Boston at that moment, but the Sox nearly countered in their half of the seventh when matched up against right-handed reliever Andrew Kittredge.
With two outs in the frame, Jarren Duran put his speed on full display by reaching first base on an infield single and going from first to third on another single off the bat of Bogaerts. But Devers flew out to center field for the final out of the inning, thus stranding the potential go-ahead run in scoring position.
In the eighth, the combined efforts of Whitlock and lefty Josh Taylor were enough to keep the Rays off the scoreboard despite them loading the bases.
Again, the Red Sox offense showed some semblance of life in their half of the inning when Kevin Plawecki reached base via a one-out single. But both Renfroe and Christian Vazquez went down swinging against Kittredge to keep this one tied at 4-4 going into the ninth.
Red Sox closer Matt Barnes, despite being used three times in two days over the weekend in Toronto, was called upon for the ninth and was tasked with keeping that 4-4 stalemate intact.
Instead, Barnes’ August struggles continued, as he loaded the bases with two outs before yielding a bases-clearing, three-run single to Francisco Mejia that was aided by a Renfroe fielding error.
Regardless, the Sox went down 7-4 on that sequence, and fell behind by one more when Martin Perez allowed one of the runners he inherited from Barnes to score on another RBI single.
That put the Sox in an 8-4 hole, and Franchy Cordero, Enrique Hernandez went down in order in the bottom of the ninth to mark Boston’s 10th defeat in its last 12 games.
With the loss, the Red Sox fall to 65-50 on the season and now sit five games behind the Rays for first place in the American League East.
Next up: Eovaldi vs. Fleming
The Red Sox will send right-hander Nathan Eovaldi to the hill in the middle game of this three-game set on Wednesday as they look to right the ship.
The Rays will counter with left-hander Josh Fleming.
First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.
(Picture of Matt Barnes: Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)