Just two days after it looked like all the momentum was on their side after eliminating the Yankees in the Wild Card Game, the Red Sox came out flat against the Rays on Thursday night.
Boston dropped Game 1 of the American League Division Series to Tampa Bay by a final score of 5-0 at Tropicana Field, meaning their backs are now somewhat against the wall moving forward.
Eduardo Rodriguez, making just his second career postseason start for the Sox and first overall appearance since Sunday, was not at his sharpest in Thursday’s series opener.
Over just 1 2/3 innings of work, the left-hander allowed two runs — both of which were earned — on two hits and two walks to go along with one strikeout in what will go down as one of his shortest outings of the year.
Right out of the gate, Rodriguez ran into trouble when he issued a leadoff walk to Randy Arozarena in the bottom of the first inning. He then yielded a line-drive double to rookie sensation Wander Franco, one in which Enrique Hernandez struggled to come up with cleanly in center field.
As a result of Hernandez bobbling the ball as he made the transfer from his glove hand to his throwing hand, the speedy Arozarena scored all the way from first base to give the Rays an early 1-0 lead.
Nelson Cruz proceeded to move Franco up to third base on a fly out to left field, and Yandy Diaz doubled his side’s advantage by plating him on a softly-hit infield single down the third base line.
That sequence put the Sox in an almost-immediate two-run hole. And while Rodriguez was able to get through the first, his day came to an end after he surrendered another leadoff walk and got the first two outs of the second.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 41 (24 strikes), Rodriguez may very well have made his final start in a Red Sox uniform on Thursday. The 28-year-old is about to become a free agent for the first time later this winter.
With the Rays lineup flipping over for the second time in the second inning, Sox manager Alex Cora turned to Garrett Richards out of the bullpen in relief of Rodriguez. Richards retired the lone batter he faced in Arozarena before making way for Nick Pivetta beginning in the bottom of the third.
Pivetta, who was considered as a candidate to Start Game 1, at the very least provided Boston with some length. In his 4 2/3 innings on the mound, the right-hander gave up three runs (all earned) on four hits, two walks, and four strikeouts.
Cruz took Pivetta deep off the C-Ring of Tropicana Field’s roof with the bases empty and two outs in the third inning. After facing the minimum in a scoreless fourth, the righty again yielded a towering solo shot to a red-hot Arozarena to lead off the fifth, thus increasing his side’s deficit to four runs.
Arozarena stole the spotlight once more in the seventh inning after drawing a two-out walk. Following a double from Franco that advanced Arozarena up to third base and a pitching change that saw left-hander Josh Taylor replace Pivetta, the Rays’ speedster took advantage of the Red Sox’ shifted infield by stealing home.
In catching Taylor and Christian Vazquez off guard, Arozarena used his wheels to make it a 5-0 contest in favor of Tampa Bay.
Up until that point in the night, the Boston lineup had been held in check by an impressive opposing pitching staff.
Rays rookie starter Shane McClanahan kept the Sox off the scoreboard in the process of scattering five hits and zero walks over five scoreless frames, while relievers J.T. Chargois and David Robertson combined to do the same in the top half of the sixth and seventh.
Going into the eighth inning with right-hander J.P. Feyereisen on the mound for the Rays, Christian Arroyo led off with a single and moved up to second on a one-out knock off the bat of Kyle Schwarber.
Both runners then advanced an additional 90 feet when Xander Bogaerts blooped another single to shallow center field, filling the bases with one out for the heart of the order.
The heart of Boston’s order, however, could not deliver, as Rafael Devers fanned on a foul tip and Hunter Renfroe popped out into foul territory to extinguish the threat.
Adam Ottavino was able to hold the Rays at five runs with a clean bottom of the eighth, but it went for naught after Feyereisen put up another zero in the top half of the ninth and final inning.
All in all, the Sox went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position while leaving eight runners on base as a team in the process of getting shut out in a postseason game for the first time since Game 2 of 2016 ALDS against the Indians.
With the 5-0 loss, the Red Sox now trail the Rays one game to nothing in this best-of-five series.
Next up: Sale vs. Baz in Game 2
The Red Sox will turn to ace left-hander Chris Sale as they look to even this division series against the Rays at one game apiece on Friday night. Tampa Bay will counter by sending another rookie in right-hander Shane Baz to the hill.
First pitch from Tropicana Field on Friday is scheduled for 7:02 p.m. eastern time on FS1.
(Picture of Eduardo Rodriguez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)