ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There are no secrets when the Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays. Counting spring training, there were 27 games between the teams before Game 1 of the Division Series on Thursday night.
“We know how they play,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said earlier this week. “We’ll be ready.”
Instead, it was a smackdown. The Rays were the faster, smarter, and more aggressive team and beat the Sox, 5-0, before a crowd of 27,419 at Tropicana Field.
Randy Arozarena walked twice, homered, and stole home as the defending American League champions checked off every box on their game plan, knocking Eduardo Rodriguez out of the game in the second inning then pulling away.
Four pitchers held the Sox to nine hits, all singles, and allowed one runner as far as third base. The perfectly positioned Tampa Bay infielders converted 11ground-ball outs as the Sox left seven runners on base.
Game 2 is Friday at 7:02 p.m. The Red Sox will start Chris Sale against rookie Shane Baz.
Sale, who grew up in nearby Lakeland, has a 2.09 earned run average in 12 career games here. The Sox will need him to be sharp or risk the best-of-five series getting away from them.
“We’ve got Chris, and he is ready to go … we should be OK,” Cora said.
Rodriguez walked the first batter he faced, Arozarena, on five pitches. It was 1-0 three pitches later when Wander Franco drilled a changeup into center field for an RBI double.
Kiké Hernández bobbled the ball, which allowed Arozarena to score, but no error was charged. With two outs and Arozarena on third, Yandy Diaz grounded slowly up the third base line and beat the throw from Rafael Devers to make it 2-0.
When Rodriguez walked Manuel Margot on five pitches to start the second inning, Cora got Garrett Richards up in the bullpen.
Rodriguez retired the next two batters, but Richards came in to face the righthanded-hitting Arozarena and retired him on a ground out.
“It’s not that we mapped it out that way, but we felt that with that lineup and the way they are, that was a moment that we had to stop it right there,” Cora said.
Rodriguez is the 10th Red Sox starting pitcher to get fewer than six outs in a postseason game. The august list includes Smoky Joe Wood in the 1912 World Series and Roger Clemens in his famed meltdown against Oakland in Game 4 of the 1990 ALCS.
Rodriguez has appeared in nine postseason games and allowed 11 earned runs over 12⅔ innings. The lefthander will be a free agent after the season, making Thursday’s game possibly his final one for the Red Sox.
“I didn’t have my command. That’s everything. This is the playoffs, man, you’ve got to be out there and do your job. If you can’t, you’re coming out of the game the way I did today,” Rodriguez said.
Nick Pivetta replaced Richards for the third inning and got two outs before Nelson Cruz sent a towering fly ball to center field. As Hernández set up to try to make a catch on the warning track, the ball hit the outermost catwalk hanging from the roof.
Under the miniature golf-like rules at the Trop, that’s a home run.
The lead grew to 4-0 in the fifth on Arozarena’s rocket to left field. It was his 11th home run in 21 postseason games for the Rays.
As Red Sox pitchers labored, Rays rookie lefthander Shane McClanahan went five scoreless innings. He allowed five singles without a walk and struck out three.
The Red Sox made good contact against McClanahan with 11 batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 92 miles per hour. But only three were hits as the Rays had the field blanketed.
“It did feel pretty fitting today. When we think we’re right, that’s how we win,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
Bobby Dalbec’s night was typical of the frustration.
His hard-hit ground ball in the second inning was turned into a double play. With two on in the fourth, he lined a ball into the glove of Diaz at third base. He later sent a fly ball to deep right field that was caught.
“We had traffic out there, and we just didn’t cash in,” Cora said.
It didn’t help that J.D. Martinez missed his second straight game because of a sprained left ankle. He was available to pinch hit but went unused.
The Rays took a 5-0 lead in the seventh as Arozarena showed off more of his skills.
He drew a two-out walk off Pivetta and went to third on Franco’s second double. With an inattentive Josh Taylor on the mound, Arozarena stole home, easily beating the throw.
“I noticed that the pitcher wasn’t really watching for me or covering for me, and I saw the third baseman was pretty far away in respect to where I was at,” Arozarena said.
Pivetta saved the Red Sox bullpen by throwing 73 pitches over 4⅔ innings. He allowed three runs.
“I tried to keep us in the baseball game and just tried to go as deep as I possibly could,” he said.