Nate Eovaldi was working on a two-hit shutout with two outs in the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night, pitching so well that it appeared he’d go deep into the game, a rarity for a Red Sox starter this season.
But Eovaldi recorded only four more outs. A missed call, the quirkiness of Tropicana Field, and some poor pitches led to a 5-1 loss.
The 3-8 Red Sox have lost four in a row and are already six games out of first place. Tuesday marked the ninth time in 11 games the Sox allowed five or more runs.
“We’re definitely struggling,” Eovaldi said. “Today was a big game. I felt I needed to step up and do a lot better than I did.”
The offense was quiet, too. The Sox went into the ninth inning with only five hits before Christian Vazquez, Kevin Pillar, and Jackie Bradley Jr. singled off Ryan Thompson to load the bases with one out.
The Rays rushed in closer Nick Anderson. He struck out Jose Peraza and Andrew Benintendi on 11 pitches to end the game. Both went down looking at fastballs.
Benintendi was 0 for 5, and is 2 for 29 on the season with one RBI.
“No doubt there’s frustration there,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “They know that we’re a better team than that.”
Eovaldi had a 1-0 lead with two outs in the fourth and was seemingly out of the inning when he threw a full-count fastball to Yoshi Tsutsugo. Replays showed caught the inside corner of the plate. Umpire Randy Rosenberg called it ball four.
“I thought it was close,” Eovaldi said. “I felt like his strike zone was really good tonight. It’s hard for me to tell balls and strikes. I think a lot of them are there and they tend not to be. I’ve got to move on and attack the next batter.”
Eovaldi did just that. Joey Wendle swung at a fastball and popped it in foul territory. Third baseman Rafael Devers settled under it, but the ball struck one of the metal catwalks above the field and deflected away. That’s just a foul ball at the Trop.
“You’d think that’s a ball we would have caught, but you never know,” Roenicke said. “It certainly changed things. When you’re going good, those things don’t happen that often, and obviously we’re not going good.”
Wendle, given a second chance, singled to left field. Hunter Renfroe followed with a two-run double to the gap in right field and the Rays had a 2-1 lead.
“It’s definitely frustrating to say the least,” Eovaldi said.
Said J.D. Martinez: “That’s Tropicana for you. You never know. It’s a strange place sometimes.”
The fifth inning was bad pitching, not bad luck.
Eovaldi’s first pitch hit No. 9 hitter Michael Perez. Austin Meadows, playing in his first game of the season following a positive test for coronavirus, followed with a line drive off the wall in right field when Eovaldi left a fastball over the plate.
The Sox were slow relaying the ball in and Perez, a catcher, scored from first. Brandon Lowe followed with an RBI single. It was the end of a stretch that saw five out of six Rays reach base off Eovaldi, who allowed four runs on six hits over five innings.
“I’ve got to do a better job of turning the page,” Eovaldi said.
Red Sox starters have a 7.07 earned run average.
As Eovaldi competed against the Rays, the umpire, and the quirkiest ballpark in the majors, Tampa Bay starter Charlie Morton allowed one run on five hits over 5⅔ innings. The 36-year-old righthander struck out five without a walk, liberally working in his curveball with a low-90s fastball.
Mitch Moreland homered in the second inning. The Sox should have had a 2-0 lead in the third, when Peraza singled and Martinez doubled to left field. But the ball hopped over the fence for a ground-rule double, sending Peraza back to third.
“Huge,” Martinez said of the ill-timed bounce off the artificial turf. “That kind of shows you the way it’s going right now. That ball hooks perfectly and hits off the wall and ricochets and goes over. That’s a run right there, and a big run, too.”
Xander Bogaerts had a chance to drive in two, but popped to center field. That was the first of eight consecutive outs recorded by Morton, who had allowed eight runs over nine innings in his first two starts.
The final game of the road trip is Wednesday, with Martin Perez facing Ryan Yarbrough.