ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The tying run reached second base with the Sox’ hottest hitter up at the plate in Xander Bogaerts.
In the top of the ninth with one out, Alex Verdugo hit a grounder toward Rays shortstop Taylor Walls. Walls went to second for the force out, but an errant throw by second baseman Vidal Brujan over to first allowed Verdugo to reach second.
Bogaerts had two hits on the day, but went down looking on a 2-2 heater from Rays closer Pete Fairbanks at the bottom of the zone. The Sox lost, 4-3.
The Sox left nine runners on. They were 2 for 7 with runners in scoring position. But the bullpen squandered a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, spoiling a solid start by Michael Wacha, who went six frames and struck out seven.
Jeurys Familia had the seventh and labored, hitting the first batter before a stolen base and a Manuel Margot RBI double tied it. The Sox went further into their bullpen, summoning Zack Kelly. The Rays then took the lead when David Peralta’s RBI double hugged the first base line.
Afterward, manager Alex Cora said the bullpen was short.
“You map it out and Kelly was gonna be a big part of what we were trying to do today, and Familia, too,” Cora said.
The bullpen’s depleted, injury-riddled state was evident in this contest, blowing their 25th save.
Much like the rest of the American League East, Tampa Bay has had its way with the Sox, going 10-4 against the Sox this season. The Sox did not register a series win against the Rays until their previous meeting at Fenway just over a week ago. The Red Sox are 1-7 against the Rays at Tropicana Field this season, and their seven-game losing streak in St. Pete ties a franchise record.
The Sox had their most reliable starter on the mound in Wacha who entered with a 2.56 ERA in 17 starts. The Rays — who had previously tagged Wacha for six earned runs on four homers in 11 innings, the most home runs allowed by Wacha against any opponent this year — could not catch up to the righthander in this contest.
“I felt pretty good for the most part,” Wacha said. “I just felt like I didn’t really quite get ahead of as many hitters as I would like to with first-pitch strikes. I had to get back in the zone after that. But, overall, I felt like the ball was coming out nice.”
The Red Sox jumped ahead in the top of the first inning when Verdugo slugged a solo shot off starter Luis Patiño, Verdugo’s ninth of the year.
The Rays responded with a run aided by three softly hit singles, capped by an RBI single to right by Harold Ramirez. After a scoreless second frame for both teams, the Sox put some pressure on Patiño with two one-out walks by Tommy Pham and Verdugo.
Bogaerts struck out for the second out of the inning, but Rafael Devers stayed hot with an RBI single. Trevor Story, the next batter, laced an RBI double, making it 3-1.
Story and the Sox later missed out on a couple of more opportunities to cash in. Both times it came back to bite the Red Sox. In the top of the fifth with two outs and one on, the Rays decided they wanted no part of Devers, intentionally walking the third baseman. Story grounded into a force out to end the frame.
The next inning, Randy Arozarena laced an RBI double to left.
Rays reliever Calvin Faucher had the seventh and with two outs, this time with runners on first and second, the Rays, again, walked Devers to bring up Story.
Story swung through a 98 m.p.h. sinker at the bottom of the zone.
Then, in the seventh, Familia unraveled.
“We had traffic,” Cora said. “But we didn’t put them away. We took some good swings and put pressure on them but we were unable to cash in. They did. They put the ball in play in certain situations and pitched well later on in the game.”