They made it interesting in the late stages on Wednesday night, but the Red Sox could not come back to knock off the unbeaten Rays. Boston fell to Tampa Bay a final score of 9-7 to drop to 5-7 on the season.
Chris Sale, making his third start of the year for the Sox, surrendered six runs (five earned) on seven hits and two walks to go along with six strikeouts over four innings of work.
The Rays got to Sale right away in the bottom of the first, but the left-hander was not fully responsible for what happened. That being the case because with one out, starting shortstop Bobby Dalbec — a natural corner infielder — mishandled a groundball off the bat of Wander Franco, which allowed Franco to reach base safely.
Franco promptly stole second base off Reese McGuire before Isaac Paredes drew a four-pitch walk off Sale to put runners at first and second. Moments later, Randy Arozarena made the Red Sox pay by clubbing a three-run opposite field home run to give the Rays an early 3-0 lead.
The Red Sox lineup, meanwhile, could do nothing against Rays starter Taj Bradley early on. Bradley, making his major-league debut for Tampa Bay took a no-hit bid into the fourth inning before giving up a leadoff double to Alex Verdugo. Following a Rafael Devers strikeout, Justin Turner pushed across Boston’s first run of the night by plating Verdugo from second on a one-out RBI single to left field.
Sale appeared to have settled in to that point by putting up a pair of zeroes in the second and third, but the lefty ran into more trouble in the latter half of the fourth. There, a Taylor Walls leadoff double and back-to-back singles from Christian Bethancourt and Vidal Brujan filled the bases with no outs. Yandy Diaz drove in Walls with a sacrifice fly before Franco ripped a two-run double into the gap in left-center to make it a 6-1 contest in favor of Tampa Bay.
The fourth inning would prove to be Sale’s last. The 34-year-old finished with 81 pitches (55 stirkes), but he only managed to induce eight swings-and-misses. He was ultimately hit with the losing decision an now owns an ERA of 11.25 through three starts.
With Sale’s day done, the Red Sox went back to chipping away at the deficit in the top of the fifth. Enrique Hernandez broke out of a lengthy 0-for-28 skid by driving in McGuire on a two-out RBI double. Verdugo followed with a run-scoring hit of his own to trim the Rays’ lead down to three runs at 6-3.
Tampa Bay did not back down, however. In the bottom of the fifth, Zack Kelly issued a leadoff walk to Harold Ramirez and surrendered back-to-back RBI hits to Bethancourt (double) and Brujan (single) before coming out of the game with an elbow injury. Boston got one of those runs back in the sixth when Turner scored from third on a Raimel Tapia groundout.
Still trailing by four after Ryan Brasier worked his way around a leadoff single in the bottom half of the sixth, the Red Sox added some intrigue to this one in the seventh. After McGuire singled and Hernandez doubled to put runners at second and third with two outs, the Rays replaced Ryan Thompson with Colin Poche to set up a lefty-on-lefty matchup against Devers.
After fouling off the first pitch he saw, Devers won the battle by crushing a 366-foot three-run blast down the left field line for his first home run of the season. Devers’ homer, which left his bat at 100.8 mph, suddenly brought the Sox back to within one run of the Rays at 8-7.
Unfortunately, that is where the scoring would stop for Boston. After John Schreiber tossed a scoreless seventh inning, Justin Adam made quick work of the three Red Sox hitters he faced in the top half of the eighth before Chris Martin allowed a very important insurance run to score in the bottom half on a sacrifice fly from Arozarena.
Down by two runs heading into the ninth, McGuire reached base yet again with a leadoff single off Pete Fairbanks. Connor Wong, who pinch-ran for McGuire, moved up to second on a Yu Chang sacrifice bunt but did not advance any further as Hernandez flew out and Verdugo grounded out to end it.
Wednesday’s 9-7 loss, which took two hours and 44 minutes to complete, marks the Red Sox’ 12th straight defeat at Tropicana Field. The Rays, on the other hand, are now the first team to start a season 12-0 since the 1987 Brewers.
Next up: Kluber vs. Springs
The Red Sox will look to avoid a sweep while simultaneously handing the Rays their first loss of the year in the finale of this four-game set on Thursday afternoon. Right-hander Corey Kluber is slated to start for Boston while left-hander Jeffrey Springs is expected to do the same for Tampa Bay.
First pitch from Tropicana Field is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN and MLB Network.
(Picture of Chris Sale: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)