With the chance to take a crucial series from the team that is ahead of them in the American League East standings, the Red Sox fell flat on their face in Thursday’s finale against the Rays at Fenway Park.
After going off for a season-high 20 runs on Wednesday, Boston fell quietly to Tampa Bay by a final score of 8-1 on Thursday, marking yet another series loss and their 11th defeat in their last 14 games.
Tanner Houck, making his sixth start of the year for the Sox after being recalled from Triple-A Worcester earlier in the day, got off to a strong start but sputtered towards the end of his outing.
Over five-plus innings of work, the right-hander surrendered four runs — three of which were earned — on six hits and zero walks to go along with eight strikeouts on the afternoon.
Making his first-ever start against the Rays, Houck retired six of the first seven hitters he faced out of the gate.
A leadoff single to Kevin Kiermaier to begin things in the third, however, changed things, as Kiermaier took off for second base on a strikeout of Mike Zunino and also advanced to third base on a throwing error committed by Kevin Plawecki behind the plate.
That miscue proved to be somewhat costly for the Sox, as Brandon Lowe proceeded to bring in Kiermaier from third on a sacrifice fly for the first run of the day.
Still, Houck bounced back with a scoreless top half of the fourth and was rewarded for that in the bottom half of the frame, as the Red Sox lineup finally put something together.
There, matched up against Rays opener Drew Rasmussen, Enrique Hernandez led off the inning by drawing a six-pitch walk. Neither Jarren Duran nor Xander Bogaerts were able to advance Hernandez into scoring position, but Rafael Devers came through with a two-out RBI double to score the runner all the way from first to even things up at one run apiece.
J.D. Martinez had the opportunity to perhaps drive in Devers with a run-scoring hit of his own, but instead grounded out weakly to third base to end the inning.
Houck, meanwhile, put together another solid effort in the fifth by punching out the side, though his luck ran out in the sixth. That being the case because the Rays lineup was about to flip over a third time, and the young righty has typically struggled when facing off against opposing hitters a third time.
That much proved to be true in the sixth inning on Thursday, as Houck issued a leadoff walk to Brandon Lowe before serving up a back-breaking two-run home run to Wander Franco moments later.
Franco’s homer, which had to be reviewed because of where it deflected off the Green Monster, gave the Rays a 3-1 lead and was followed by a hard-hit double from Nelson Cruz, which subsequently marked the end of the line for Houck as he got the hook from Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 89 (61 strikes), the 25-year-old hurler was ultimately hit with his third losing decision of the year while also seeing his ERA on the season rise to 2.93.
In relief of Houck, left-hander Josh Taylor got the first call out of the Boston bullpen, and he recorded the first two outs of the sixth before intentionally walking Yandy Diaz to pave the way for Hansel Robles to come into the game.
Robles, making his Fenway Park debut, walked the pinch-hitting Manuel Margot on five pitches to fill the bases, then balked in a run that allowed Cruz to score from third, making it a 4-1 contest.
Robles, who officially closed the book on Houck’s outing by allowing that inherited runner to score, was able to get out of the sixth without giving anything else up, but the damage had already been done.
From there, Robles and Austin Davis combined to toss a scoreless seventh inning, though Davis yielded a leadoff triple to Joey Wendle — that was followed by an intentional walk of Diaz — to begin things in the eighth.
Yacksel Rios was dispatched with the idea of limiting any damage and holding the Rays at four runs, but he instead gave up a sacrifice fly to Margot before putting another runner on and surrendering a three-run blast to Zunino.
Zunino’s 23rd homer of the year put the Rays up 8-1, which would go on to be Thursday’s final score after Rios kept Tampa Bay off the board in the top half of the ninth and the Boston bats went down quietly in their halves of the eighth and ninth inning.
All that being said, five different Rays pitchers were able to hold the Red Sox to just one run on two hits and three walks, all of which were drawn by Hernandez. Boston also went 0-for-1 with runners in scoring position while leaving three runners on base as a team.
With the loss, the Red Sox fall to 66-51 on the season and drop back down to five games back of the Rays for first place in the American League East.
Next up: Pivetta vs. Watkins to kick off the weekend
The reeling Red Sox will next welcome the Orioles into town for a three-game weekend series at Fenway Park that begins on Friday night.
Right-hander Nick Pivetta is slated to get the ball for Boston in the opener, while fellow righty Spencer Watkins is expected to do the same for Baltimore.
First pitch Friday is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.
(Picture of Tanner Houck: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)