After taking a steady amount of blows off the field leading up to the start of an important four-game series against their division rivals, the Red Sox were knocked down by the red-hot Rays at Tropicana Field on Monday night.
In the wake of adding two more players — relievers Martin Perez and Matt Barnes — to the COVID-19 related injured list, the Sox mustered all of six hits as they fell to Tampa Bay by a final score of 6-1 to kick off the week.
Nick Pivetta, making his 26th start of the season for the Sox on Monday, was forced into a struggle right away when he served up a leadoff home run to Brandon Lowe on his very first pitch of the contest in the bottom of the first inning.
That homer proved to set the tone for what would be a grind of a night for Pivetta, as the right-hander allowed a total of four runs (all earned) on six hits and five walks to go along with six strikeouts over five-plus innings of work.
After falling behind early, though, the Red Sox lineup was able to answer back with a home run of their own in their half of the second. While matched up against Rays starter Luis Patino, Bobby Dalbec stayed hot by scorching a 397-foot solo shot to deep left field that left his bat at over 114 mph.
Dalbec’s 18th homer of the season — and seventh in his last 15 games — pulled Boston back even with Tampa Bay at one run apiece, but the Rays bats prevailed off Pivetta in the third and never had to look back as a result.
Following a leadoff walk of Lowe to begin things in the third inning and a wild pitch that allowed Lowe to advance to second base, Pivetta issued a two-out, run-scoring single to Austin Meadows, thus giving the Rays a brand-new, 2-1 lead.
In the fourth, Pivetta ran into some two-out trouble once again, this time giving up a hard-hit double to Kevin Kiermaier, but following that up by getting Mike Zunino to strike out on a slider in the dirt.
Zunino was, however, able to reach first base safely since said slider eluded Christian Vazquez behind the plate, and the inning continued. This, in turn, led to Lowe hitting an RBI infield single over the head of Dalbec that pushed across Kiermaier to make it a 3-1 game.
Pivetta did manage to work his way around a two-out double and intentional walk in the fifth and came back out for the sixth, but was unable to record an out after surrendering a leadoff single to Kiermaier that was followed by a walk of Zunino.
That sequence led to Pivetta getting the hook from Red Sox manager Alex Cora, but the righty’s night was not officially done yet since he left a pair of runners on base for newly-inserted reliever Hansel Robles out of the Boston bullpen.
Robles proceeded to load the bases by issuing a walk of his own, then got Nelson Cruz to hit a soft grounder to Rafael Devers at third, but it was one in which Devers bobbled, which allowed Kiermaier to score from third to give his side a 4-1 edge.
With that, Pivetta’s night was done. The 28-year-old hurler finished his evening having thrown 108 pitches — 66 of which were strikes. He was also hit with his seventh loss of the season while raising his ERA on the year to 4.67.
Robles, to his credit, did manage to retire the next three battters — Wander Franco, Meadows, Yandy Diaz — in order to strand the bases loaded and keep the deficit at three runs.
That being said, the Red Sox offense could not do much against Patino, nor the Rays’ bullpen.
After Patino came out with two outs and a runner on in the sixth, J.P. Feyereisen came on, got Dalbec to fly out to right field to end the inning, then struck out a pair in a scoreless top half of the seventh.
Raynel Espinal, who was selected from Triple-A Worcester earlier in the day, made his major-league debut for the Sox in the bottom of the seventh. The 29-year-old rookie looked sharp in his first inning of work, a 1-2-3 frame at that, but surrendered a two-out, two-run single to Franco in the eighth that gave the Rays a commanding 6-1 lead.
On the other side of things, Pete Fairbanks punched out Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez in order in the top half of the eighth, while Adam Conley induced a game-ending double play off the bat of Vazquez that sealed a disappointing 6-1 defeat for the Sox.
With the loss, the Red Sox fall to 75-58 on the season and are now nine games back of the Rays for first place in the American League East with 29 games remaining in the regular season. They do, however, remain two games ahead of the Athletics for the second American League Wild Card spot.
Next up: TBD vs. Yarbrough
The Red Sox have yet to name a starter for the second game of this four-game series against the Rays on Tuesday, though it seems likely they could go with veteran right-hander Brad Peacock — who they acquired from the Indians in exchange for cash considerations on Monday.
The Rays, on the other hand, will turn to left-hander Ryan Yarbrough, who has allowed a total of 19 runs (16 earned) in three outings (two starts) spanning 12 innings of work against the Red Sox so far this season. That’s good for an ERA of 12.00.
First pitch Tuesday is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.
(Picture of Nick Pivetta: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)