Well, that was ugly.
Despite getting a strong start from Chris Sale and taking a two-run lead into the sixth inning, the Red Sox fell to the Rays by a final score of 3-2 at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night.
Sale, making his season debut, scattered just three hits and one walk to go along with five strikeouts over five scoreless frames. The veteran left-hander retired six of the first seven batters he faced before running into some trouble in the third, as he gave up a leadoff single to Yu Chang and one-out walk to Yandy Diaz. But he got out of that jam by sitting down Harold Ramirez and then punching out Christian Bethancourt.
Isaac Parades led off the bottom of the fourth with a hard-hit double and advanced to third on a Randy Arozarena groundout, but Sale stranded him there before ending his night with a 1-2-3 fifth inning. The 33-year-old southpaw threw 78 pitches (53 strikes) and induced a total of four swings-and-misses while averaging 95.1 mph with his four-seam fastball.
By the time he had recorded the final out of the fifth inning, Sale was in line for the win. That being the case because the Red Sox lineup had just gotten to Rays starter Corey Kluber for two runs in their half of the fifth.
After Alex Verdugo broke up Kluber’s no-hit bid with a one-out double, Trevor Story was hit in the right hand while swinging at a 3-1, 89 mph sinker that was ruled a foul ball. Story would have to leave the game and was later diagnosed with a right hand contusion. He was pinch-hit for by Jeter Downs, who moved Verdugo up to third base on a softly-hit single to left field.
Franchy Cordero then laid down a successful sacrifice bunt down the first base line that brought in Verdugo from third to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead. Bobby Dalbec followed by plating Downs on an RBI triple to double his side’s advantage.
The sixth inning is where things began to spiral for Boston. Ryan Brasier took over for Sale out of the Red Sox bullpen and put runners at first and second in the process of recording the first two outs of the frame. Alex Cora then turned to Matt Strahm, who almost immediately gave up an RBI single to the pinch-hitting Francisco Mejia.
Mejia’s single put runners at first and second for Taylor Walls, who ripped a 98 mph comebacker off Strahm’s left wrist. Strahm lost his glove but attempted to get Walls out at first base to end the inning. He instead threw the ball away, which allowed Parades to score the game-tying run.
Cordero, meanwhile, retrieved Strahm’s errant toss and attempted to throw home to Christian Vazquez. That caught Vazquez off-guard, as he tried to block the ball with his chest protector before it rolled away, giving Mejia the opportunity to score from third to give Tampa Bay their first lead of the contest.
Both Strahm and Cordero were charged with throwing errors on the play, and Strahm had to be removed with what the team later diagnosed as a left wrist contusion. He was replaced by Kaleb Ort, who recorded the final out of the sixth.
Boston’s lack of fundamentals continued to haunt in the top of the seventh. Verdugo and Downs greeted new Rays reliever Jalen Beeks with back-to-back hits to put runners on the corners with no outs. But Verdugo, representing the tying run, was picked off by Mejia at third base for the first out of the inning. Beeks proceeded to escape the seventh unscathed before facing the minimum in a scoreless eighth.
With John Schreiber and Hirokazu Sawamura keeping the Rays off the scoreboard, the Red Sox found themselves still trailing by one run heading into their half of the ninth.
Matched up against left-handed reliever Brooks Raley, Downs drew a two-out walk but that was immediately negated when Cordero fanned on three pitches to end the game.
With the loss, the Red Sox fall to 47-41 on the season and 11-22 against divisional opponents. They are 4-8 in the month of July.
Next up: Winckowski vs. McClanahan
The Red Sox will send rookie right-hander Josh Winckowski to the mound on Wednesday as they look to avoid dropping another series an American League East rival. The Rays will counter with their ace in left-hander Shane McClanahan.
First pitch from Tropicana Field is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.
(Picture of Chris Sale: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)