Despite all the struggles they endured this week, the Red Sox had a chance to secure a winning road trip with a victory over the Rays on Thursday. Boston instead fell to Tampa Bay by a final score of 9-3 and were swept in four games as a result.
With the loss, their 13th straight at Tropicana Field, the Red Sox drop to 5-8 on the season. The unbeaten Rays, meanwhile, improve to a perfect 13-0, matching the 1982 Braves and 1987 Brewers for the best start to a season in major-league history.
Thursday’s series finale actually started in positive fashion for Boston. With old friend Jeffrey Springs starting for Tampa Bay, Rob Refsnyder gave the Red Sox an early 1-0 lead in the first inning by taking the lefty 409 feet deep to left field for his first home run of the year.
The Rays quickly responded, though, as Yandy Diaz crushed a leadoff home run off Red Sox starter Corey Kluber to begin things in the bottom of the first. Kluber would settle in, however, and Boston got back on the board in the top of the fourth.
After Springs was forced to exit with ulnar neuritis, Justin Turner greeted new Rays reliever Garrett Cleavinger by ripping a leadoff double to left field. Turner stole third base and then came into score on an Enrique Hernandez force out to put the Red Sox up 2-1. An inning later, Turner struck again, this time plating Christian Arroyo on an RBI single to make it a 3-1 game heading into the bottom of the fifth.
That is where things began to unravel for Boston. Kluber, who retired each of the last nine batters he had faced, yielded a leadoff double to Harold Ramirez. After issuing a one-out walk to Josh Lowe to put runners on the corners, Kluber gave up an RBI single to Francisco Mejia to cut the lead to one run at 3-2.
With two outs, Red Sox manager Alex Cora opted to pull Kluber for left-hander Richard Bleier. Bleier, in turn, allowed the then-game-tying run to cross the plate on an RBI single from Brandon Lowe that was just out of the reach of Arroyo. Randy Arozarena then gave the Rays their first lead of the afternoon with a groundball single of his own.
After plunking Wander Franco to fill the bases, the pinch-hitting Manuel Margot laid down a perfectly-executed bunt off Bleier to push across Lowe. Ramirez then broke it open with a bases-clearing, three-run double down the left field line to cap off a seven-run fifth inning and give the Rays a commanding 8-3 edge.
Kluber was charged with three of those seven runs. All together, the veteran right-hander surrendered four earned runs on four hits and one walk to go along with seven strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings of work. He was hit with the losing decision and is now 0-3 with a 6.92 ERA through three starts.
Bleier, on the other hand, was charged with the other four runs that crossed the plate in the fifth. Kutter Crawford, who was just recalled from Triple-A Worcester, took over the lefty and served up a solo homer to Brandon Lowe in the seventh. Besides that one blemish, the righty was effective in his three frames of relief.
Offensively, the Red Sox did not have a response for the Rays bullpen after the fifth inning. They went 1-2-3 against Kevin Kelly in the sixth, stranded a runner at scoring position in a hitless seventh inning, and then went down quietly against Braden Bristo in the eighth and ninth. In total, Boston had just four hits as a team while going 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Casas’ 14-pitch walk
With one out and one runner on in the fourth inning, Triston Casas fouled off seven consecutive pitches in the process of working a 14-pitch walk off Rays reliever Garrett Cleavinger. Upon taking ball four, Casas flipped his bat and let out an emphatic yell towards the Red Sox dugout.
According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, the last at-bat by a Red Sox hitter that lasted longer than 14 pitches came on April 25, 2012, when Adrian Gonzalez had a 15-pitch groundout against Liam Hendriks, who was then starting for the Twins.
Next up: Sandoval vs. Houck in first of four against Angels
On the heels of a 3-4 road trip, the Red Sox will head home and open a four-game weekend series against the Angels on Friday night. Right-hander Tanner Houck is slated to get the ball for Boston in the opener while left-hander Patrick Sandoval is expected to do the same for Los Angeles.
First pitch from Fenway Park on Friday is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time. The game will be broadcasted exclusively on Apple TV+.
(Picture of Corey Kluber: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)