ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. ― In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Red Sox clubhouse, there was still a game to be played Monday evening. They did not win it, falling nine games behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays, 6-1, thanks in large part to more shoddy defense.
Boston trailed from its first pitch, a Nick Pivetta fastball that Brandon Lowe sent 441 feet for his 31st home run. It was just a three-run deficit entering the bottom of the eighth, but the way the Rays controlled the contest, the margin felt as if it were larger than that. So, when the Rays tacked on two more, it all but put the Red Sox out of their misery.
It was Tampa’s 12th win in 13 games, and it is 8-2 in its last 10 head-to-head meetings with Boston.
“They got a good team,” manager Alex Cora said. “They do a lot of things right. They pitch. They play good defense. They run the bases well. They do things that good teams do.”
The visitors quickly answered Lowe’s homer, a Luis Patiño fastball leaving Bobby Dalbec’s bat at 114.1 miles per hour for his 18th home run, the seventh in a hot month for the first baseman.
They had just four singles the rest of the night, however, and Pivetta faced his usual grind-it-out moments.
He issued five walks, one intentional, and was unable to locate his fastball. He got away with walking the leadoff hitter in the second, but not the third, when he walked Lowe. Lowe advanced to second on a wild pitch, to third on a Wander Franco groundout, then put the Rays in front for good on Austin Meadows’s two-out RBI single.
“I wouldn’t say I [was] pleased,” Pivetta said. “I think I hold myself to a higher standard than that. I need to limit my walks, limit base runners. I think it just all comes down to that at the end of the day.”
Pivetta’s outing had some misfortune in it, too, via the sloppy play that has followed the Sox for the last month-plus.
Kevin Kiermaier roped a two-out double in the fourth. Pivetta struck out Mike Zunino on a curveball in the dirt, but instead of blocking it, catcher Christian Vázquez attempted to pick it. It got by him, allowing Kiermaier to advance to third and Zunino to reach first.
Lowe made it 3-1 on a chopper to the right side, with Pivetta’s pitch count at 83 by the end of the inning. Pivetta worked a scoreless fifth and came back out for the sixth, but a leadoff single and a walk ended his night.
Tampa made it 4-1 against Hansel Robles, who walked Lowe to load the bases, then got no help when Rafael Devers muffed a routine grounder.
Robles stranded the bases loaded, but while the Sox offense did little, the Rays added two insurance runs in the eighth off Raynel Espinal. Espinal was called up before the game when Martín Pérez and Matt Barnes went on the COVID-related injured list after testing positive Monday afternoon.
“At the end of the inning, it’s a 4-1 [game],” Cora said. “But, obviously, we were short.”
Even more short than they were leading into this, the first game of a four-game set with the Rays. In addition to Barnes and Pérez, quality control coach Rámon Vázquez tested positive for COVID-19. Tom Goodwin didn’t coach first base after he was deemed a close contact, and Josh Taylor was removed from the field after he was declared a close contact during the fifth inning.
The Red Sox, one of the few teams not at the league’s 85 percent vaccination threshold, have six positive cases and two close contacts. Asked afterward if he was frustrated by the outbreak, Cora said he wasn’t.
“I’m just tired to be honest with you,” he said. “To be thinking about it the whole time and and have to deal with this before a game and during the game and all that. Honestly, that’s how I feel right now.”