It was another demoralizing loss for the Red Sox at the hands of the Rays on Wednesday night. Boston dropped its third straight to Tampa Bay by a final score of 4-1 at Tropicana Field to fall to 47-42 on the season.
Josh Winckowski, making his seventh start of the season, pitched well in his home state of Florida. The rookie right-hander held the Rays to three runs on four hits and two walks to go along with five strikeouts over six quality innings of work.
After taking a no-hitter into the third inning, Winckowski ran into some trouble when he issued a leadoff walk to Josh Lowe. That was followed by a line-drive single from Francisco Mejia, which put runners at first and second with no outs.
Winckowski got Yandy Diaz to ground into a force out at second base, but he then gave up back-to-back run-scoring hits to Ji-Man Choi and Harold Ramirez to put the Red Sox in an early 2-0 hole.
An inning later, Winckowski served up a 391-foot solo shot to the light-hitting Taylor Walls with one out in the fourth inning. He was at least able to settle in after that by retiring the final eight batters he faced through the end of the sixth.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 92 (62 strikes), Winckowski induced a total of seven swings-and-misses while mixing in his sinker, slider, four-seamer, changeup, and cutter. The 24-year-old hurler topped out at 94.3 mph with his heater. He was also the tough-luck loser as his ERA on the season now sits at 4.38.
By the time the final out of the sixth inning had been recorded, the Red Sox lineup had been almost entirely held in check by Rays ace Shane McClanahan. The tough left-hander did not give up his first hit of the night until the fourth inning, when Rafael Devers reached base via a one-out double that left his bat at 107.9 mph.
Devers, who has been dealing with a sore back and hamstring, attempted to take off from third when one of McClanahan’s pitches to J.D. Martinez got way from Rays catcher Francisco Mejia. But Mejia was able to gather himself and corral the ball in time to gun down Devers at third base. Martinez then struck out to end the inning.
Back-to-back singles from Xander Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo to lead off the fifth put runners at the corners with no outs for Christian Vazquez, who promptly grounded into a 5-4-3 double play. Bogaerts was able to score on the twin killing, but McClanahan managed to escape the inning while avoiding any serious damage.
Fast forward to the seventh, Bogaerts greeted new Rays reliever Jason Adam by ripping a two-out double to right field and stealing third base. But Verdugo grounded out to first to extinguish the threat.
In the latter half of the seventh, with Jake Diekman in the game for Winckowski, fundamental issues continued to plague Boston. With two outs and one runner on, Diaz laced a groundball single to right field that should have put runners at first and third. Instead, right fielder Rob Refsnyder was indecisive with where he wanted to throw the ball, which allowed the base runner (Lowe) to score all the way from first uncontested.
That unfortunate sequence of events made it a 4-1 game in favor of Tampa Bay. After Phillips Valdez stranded one runner in the eighth, the Red Sox found themselves down to their final three outs in the ninth.
Refsnyder reached on a one-out single, but Colin Poche left him there by retiring Devers and Martinez to wrap up another defeat within the division for Boston. With the loss, the Red Sox are now 4-9 in the month of July and 11-23 against American League East opponents.
Next up: Crawford vs. Rasmussen
As they look to avoid a four-game sweep, the Red Sox are expected to turn to right-hander Kutter Crawford in Thursday’s series finale. The Rays will counter with fellow righty Drew Rasmussen.
First pitch from Tropicana Field is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN and MLB Network.
(Picture of Rafael Devers: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)