ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When Pete Fairbanks came in to close the ninth with Abraham Almonte pinch hitting, this game was over.
The Sox had just squandered a chance to tie the contest in the eighth with runners at second and third. It put them at 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position, sinking a boat that was already near the bottom of the Charles River.
The Sox were shut out, 1-0, cementing a Rays sweep at Tropicana Field Wednesday evening.
Their results against the Rays this year is enough to make a Sox fan’s stomach turn.
The Sox finished the season 1-9 at the Trop. They lost their last nine games in St. Pete, making it the longest single-season losing streak ever by a visiting team. The Sox are 4-12 against the Rays this season, putting their record against American League East opponents at a dismal 18-39.
“Offensively, we haven’t done enough against the whole division,” Cora said. “There have been games that have gotten out of hand. They got out of hand but we haven’t been able to finish games. We haven’t won too many games against the AL East, but if you look at the games we’re right there. But at the end, you have to have more runs than the opposition and we haven’t done that.”
Early on, it looked like Nick Pivetta’s meaty 7.24 ERA against the division would continue to trend upward.
Yet, somehow, Pivetta exited without any real damage done by the Rays.
Somehow Pivetta carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning despite throwing a whopping 77 pitches, including back-to-back 25-plus pitch innings in the first (25) and second (27). Pivetta faced 20 batters; a mind-boggling 12 of them worked the count full.
Pivetta survived it.
The game was scoreless through four frames. It wasn’t until the fifth inning that Pivetta relinquished his first hit, a leadoff double to Francisco Mejia that split the Sox’ outfielders in right-center.
Ji-Man Choi just missed a homer to center that Rob Refsnyder hauled in at the wall, allowing Mejia to tag up from second. With the infield in and shortstop Kiké Hernández shifted a bit up the middle. Taylor Walls punched a grounder toward the vacant space at shortstop. Hernández made a play on it and attempted to nab Walls at first, but the Rays shortstop beat the throw. Mejia scored easily. Pivetta exited the game after the fifth having thrown a hefty 101 pitches, walking three, and yielding just two hits.
Pivetta gave the Red Sox offense a chance, one it missed several times over. It began in the first inning when Hernández roped a leadoff double to left off starter Jeffrey Springs. Hernández, however, was left stranded.
The next two batters, Tommy Pham and Alex Verdugo, both struck out. Trevor Story negotiated a walk, but J.D. Martinez flied out to right field, ending the threat.
In the fourth, Story collected a one-out single against Yonny Chirinos. Martinez negotiated a walk, but back-to-back strikeouts by Christian Arroyo and Refsnyder closed the inning.
The fifth brought a pair of two-out singles, but Verdugo’s groundout ended the threat once more.
In that squandered eighth inning, Pham led off with a single to right. Verdugo walked. The next three Sox hitters went down in order. But Story grounded into a fielder’s choice, then stole second, putting runners at second and third with one out. Martinez, once again, flied out to right and Arroyo grounded out to third.
In Martinez’s first four seasons with the Red Sox, he was a career .339 hitter with runners in scoring position with a 1.022 OPS. Entering Wednesday, the scuffling Martinez had just a .235 average and a .686 OPS with runners in scoring position.
“I tried my best,” Martinez said. “I have to keep doing what I’m doing. Keep grinding. Keep chipping away.”
This was the first time since May 30 against the Orioles that the Sox were shut out. They have scored an average of 3.38 runs against the Rays this season, compared to 4.67 runs against all others.
“We didn’t put the ball in play,” said Cora, whose team tallied six empty hits. “We expanded against them and we weren’t able to cash in.”
The Sox were without Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, who got the night off. It looked like the rest of the lineup did, too.