Rafael Devers looked skyward and exhaled a deep breath of dejection in the fourth inning Thursday afternoon. He had just committed his first of three throwing errors in the series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Thursday’s 17-8 drubbing gave the Red Sox a 1-13 record against the Rays at Fenway Park dating to last season. More importantly, this four-game sweep dropped the Sox to 6-13, last in the American League East. The weight of it all, the struggles individually and collectively, appears to have negatively affected Devers most.
“When he makes an error and let’s the team down, he really feels bad about it,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “It doesn’t just click off. Like, some guys make an error and they’re done with it.”
Devers wasn’t the only Red Sox player who made mistakes on Thursday. The defense, including a first-inning error by second baseman Jonathan Arauz that killed a chance for a double play, didn’t help starter Kyle Hart, who was making his major league debut. That error resulted in two unearned runs and a quick 2-0 deficit.
The Red Sox defense has been abysmal this season. They made six errors in the series, which doesn’t include the mental lapses in the field, such as misjudged fly balls and hesitating to throw to a base. Entering Thursday’s game, they were minus-4 in ultimate zone rating and minus-4 in defensive runs saved, both at the bottom of the league. If you don’t want to get too analytical, they had a .979 fielding percentage, also at the bottom of the league. Either way, the numbers are clear: This defense is bad.
“I still think we’re a good defensive team,” Roenicke said. “It’s just like I think we’re going to hit better and we haven’t done it yet. Hopefully, we get rid of this game and move on.”
The Red Sox’ bats were alive — scoring five runs against Rays starter Tyler Glasnow — but not as much as the Rays.
Hart worked a scoreless second inning, but in the third, he failed to record an out before he was taken out, issuing a walk, a homer, another homer, a double off the Green Monster, a single, and another single. He surrendered five earned runs that inning, before Phillips Valdez had to take over. Hart lasted just two-plus innings, striking out four while allowing seven hits and three walks.
“To be quite honest, the way that they’re hitting the ball, I envisioned them coming out and swinging a little more than they were,” said Hart, who nibbled too much at times. “That’s probably why I was a little tentative. They are a hot team. I thought they were going to be swinging out of their shoes, and to their credit, they were really patient and got into a lot of hitter’s counts.”
The Rays pounded Marcus Walden in the sixth for two homers and six earned runs. He, too, didn’t record an out in the inning.
“It’s tough,” said catcher Kevin Plawecki, who was 2 for 5 with three RBIs, and even recorded the final two outs of the ninth after infielder Jose Peraza got the first out in mopup duty, before he was hit by a liner drive and exited. “We’re fighting. Obviously, we’re going through a tough stretch.”
The tough stretch has picked at this Sox team, just like the ball seemed to pick at Devers on Thursday. His first error of two errors in the fourth came on an easy double-play ball that he yanked into the outfield, nowhere near Arauz at second. Devers’s next error came on a slow roller that he barehanded and again yanked, this time past first baseman Mitch Moreland. Devers’s errors led to two runs in that inning.
In the seventh, Devers let another one get away from him. He fielded a Hunter Renfroe grounder cleanly but threw too high to Michael Chavis, who had replaced Moreland. Chavis came down on the bag, but not before Renfroe.
As the game waned, so did Devers’s body language. He was there physically but appeared disengaged mentally. The team’s brightest star of the future seemed as if he had reached his breaking point.
“When these [errors] happen, you can see it in the body language,” Roenicke said.
As the Red Sox went back onto the field for the ninth inning, Devers was the last infielder to reach his position. He had walked the entire way.