ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — John Farrell came out of the dugout in the bottom of the fourth inning of the Red Sox’ 3-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night looking like a man who had lost too many of these kinds of fights to walk into another one.
Once he got face to face with second base umpire Marcus Pattillo, he put his hands on his hips and they talked in what looked to be the same tone two men would have if exchanging insurance information after a fender bender.
If Farrell had wanted to make a fuss out of things, he could have.
His catcher Christian Vazquez and shortstop Stephen Drew figured they could catch the Rays’ Yunel Escobar napping at second base.
“We had the play on and kind of felt like [Escobar] might’ve got off,” Drew said.
Vazquez made a snap throw from behind the plate.
“Vasky was heads-up to see me and made a good throw and we had it right,” Drew said.
It happened so quickly, all Escobar had time to do was body board back to second and hope that he could sneak his hand onto the bag before Drew got a tag down.
Drew blocked the bag with his left foot and tagged Escobar on the right elbow. Escobar was still sliding when Drew raised his glove to show it to Pattillo.
When Pattillo gave the safe sign, Drew couldn’t hide his disbelief.
All he could do was slap his thighs with his glove.
“I thought we had him,” Drew said. “I knew it was really close, you know, bang-bang.”
If Farrell had chosen to challenge it, the replays would’ve likely been on his side. Starter John Lackey, for one, would’ve liked him to.
“A challenge would’ve been nice there,” Lackey said. “He looked like he was pretty out.”
Farrell had been in this spot too many times before, though. Twenty times to be exact. And even though he’d won 11 challenges, nothing was more ambiguous and frustrating than the word “inconclusive.”
Trailing 1-0, he chose not to.
“When we reviewed it internally it wasn’t conclusive,” Farrell said. “And where we were at the time of the game, given our history with what we’ve used the system for, when it’s not conclusive, we’re not going to risk using the one challenge we have at that moment.”
Two pitches later, Escobar went from being a dead duck to a cushion run when Kevin Kiermaier singled him in. Ben Zobrist’s solo homer in the seventh inning was the parting shot in the Rays’ win.
The Sox have now lost five straight, wiping out the five straight wins they wrapped around the All-Star break. Meanwhile, the Rays have won nine straight, cutting their gap in the division to 6½ games.
Looking back, the night felt like it was strung together by inconclusiveness.
In the first inning, David Ortiz laced a line drive to right field that he was sure would reach the seats. But a fan reached over the wall and gloved it, leading the umpires to rule it a ground-rule double on fan interference.
Ortiz shot a cold glare toward the stands, and perhaps the only reason it left his face was that he realized the fan that made the catch was wearing a Red Sox jersey.
The play was reviewed by the umpires, but once they looked at it, nothing from the video changed their minds.
“It wasn’t, again, conclusive enough to say that the ball would’ve carried out of the ballpark,” Farrell said. “If it’s ruled a home run, I don’t know that there’s enough evidence to overturn it the other way either. So that’s what we go by.”
Ortiz, however, was certain he was robbed.
“That was a [expletive] homer,” he said. “That was a homer. They [expletive] that one up. I think that the umpire down the line he kind of panicked when he saw the right fielder [pointing at his arm saying it was interference]. But I watched the whole replay. It was a home run.”
Two pitches into his start, things went haywire for Lackey.
Desmond Jennings put a bunt down on the right side of the infield. Vazquez scooped it and fired to first, but with Jennings blazing down the line, first baseman Mike Napoli lost the throw. It sailed into foul territory and Jennings hurried over to third.
Farrell came out to argue to home plate umpire Chad Fairchild that Jennings was running inside the base line, interfering with Napoli in the process, but it was futile.
“The explanation I got was that he didn’t interfere with the throw,” Farrell said. “There was no deflection, but that 45-foot lane is there to protect the first baseman. Nap had to, I think, alter his course to receive the ball. Nonetheless, Chad felt there was no interference.”
Still, the Sox squandered scoring chances in each of the first four innings.
Napoli struck out looking at a changeup to end the first inning with Ortiz sitting on second. Vazquez flew out to left with two on and two out in the second. Ortiz grounded into the uncommon 4-3-2 double play in the third, bouncing a grounder to second baseman Zobrist, who went to first to James Loney to retire Ortiz. Loney then gunned down Brock Holt at the plate trying to score from second. Jackie Bradley Jr. struck out checking his swing on a eye-level fastball, leaving runners on second and third in the fourth.
The Red Sox went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base.
Lackey (11-7) went seven innings, allowing eight hits and three runs, two earned. But Jeremy Hellickson and four relievers shut out the punchless Sox on eight hits.
“Consistency, yeah, that’s been elusive,” Farrell said. “Tonight I thought we did a very good job of creating opportunities. But the ability to string some base hits together has been inconsistent.”
The Sox were shut out for the second time in three games and the 11th time this season.
This time, though, it felt like they were undone as much by themselves as they were by the review process.
“That’s the system as it stands,” Farrell said. “Unless it’s definitive and conclusive, that’s what we have to go by. There’s degrees of an ability to overturn a call.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.