After struggling against the Rays for most of the season, the Sox seemed as if they were finding some stability. Winning Friday at Fenway Park, Trevor Story returned to action Saturday after spending more than a month on the injured list. The Sox’ lineup gained so much length, and immediately sent nine to the plate in the first inning of another victory.
The Red Sox had a chance at a sweep Sunday. Even with Story given a rest day for the series finale, there was some optimism.
It was gone quickly, as the Sox laid an egg and lost in convincing fashion, 12-4.
“We’ve had way too many games like that, to be honest with you,” manager Alex Cora said. “For how good it is to win the series, it’s a bad taste. We’re in a bad spot. We are, but you just got to show up tomorrow and win that game and win the series and keep moving forward.
“For how bad it was today, we accomplished our mission, but when you have a chance to sweep people, you have to play better and that’s a little disappointing.”
Sunday was the third time this month the Red Sox had a chance at a sweep, and the third time they came up short. Despite trading the popular Christian Vázquez before the game on Aug. 1, the Sox promptly won twice in Houston before the Astros rolled in the series finale, 6-1. After winning their first two games against the lowly Pirates on Aug. 16-17, the Sox fell flat again, 8-2.
The hits weren’t in short supply Sunday, but it was the Rays who made theirs do the most damage.
The Rays dragged starter Nick Pivetta for five runs in five innings. It included two home runs by Isaac Paredes, the second a two-run shot in the fourth that extended Tampa’s lead to 4-1.
J.D. Martinez, Franchy Cordero, and Tommy Pham all homered off Rays starter Corey Kluber, but they were all solo shots, and the hosts were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position, stranding nine.
For Pivetta, his 4.40 ERA has a lot to do with his continued struggles against American League East opponents. In 11 divisional starts, Pivetta carries a whopping 7.24 ERA (54⅔ innings, 44 earned runs). In his 15 other starts, it’s a 2.72 ERA.
“I just don’t think I’ve showed up the way that I needed to against divisional opponents this year,” Pivetta said, offering the obvious.
His manager offered a bit more.
“I always talk about his fastball. I do believe his fastball plays. And regardless of what the velocity is you have to establish that and go from there and the Rays did a good job of hitting offspeed pitches in the zone,” Cora said. “That’s how it works in this division, in any division.”
The Red Sox scored single runs in the third, fourth, fifth, and seventh innings, but the Rays answered immediately each time. Hirokazu Sawamura needed 37 pitches to get through the sixth, Tampa scoring three to grow its lead to 8-3, and Austin Davis needed 37 in the eighth as the Rays put the game out of reach with four more.
Despite the series loss, the Rays (70-57) still hold the first of the American League’s three wild-card positions. The Red Sox (62-66) remain seventh in the three-team race, seven games back. As September quickly approaches, the Sox’ chances seemingly have vanished.
“I don’t think it’s for a lack of effort, but we just [let the game get away] for [whatever] reason,” Cora said. “Bad defense or we’re short or we don’t pitch the first five innings. We’ve seen too many of those games.
“It’s always one too many, but we’ve seen a lot.”