The Tampa Bay Rays, who have the best record in baseball, are indisputably a better team than the Red Sox.
But that doesn’t begin to explain the 6-2 loss the Sox suffered at Fenway Park on Sunday.
A series of careless defensive plays capped by a ludicrous trip around the bases by Yandy Diaz in the sixth inning had the crowd of 34,192 booing and left Alex Cora seemingly more frustrated than at any previous point in his tenure as manager.
“It’s not good baseball, bottom line,” he said.
On an unseasonably cold day, a lukewarm season continued. The Sox have lost five of their last seven games and nine of 13. At 30-29, they are 11 games behind the Rays in the division.
One play in the sixth inning defined the dreadful day.
With Tampa Bay leading 4-2, Manuel Margot drew a one-out walk off reliever Corey Kluber. With two outs, Margot broke for second and Diaz chopped a ball in front of the plate that rolled to the right side.
With second baseman Enmanuel Valdez running to cover the bag, the ball rolled into shallow right field.
As Margot took off for third base, Alex Verdugo casually retrieved the ball and lobbed it to Valdez.
“I lost sight of the ball. A late jump on my end,” Verdugo said.
Margot alertly raced to the plate and scored as Valdez’s throw was late.
Tampa Bay third base coach Brady Williams magnanimously called it a “slow-developing play.”
“That run was on me,” Verdugo said.
After Margot scored, Diaz kept running and should have been out at second. But an off-balance throw by catcher Connor Wong sailed into center field and kept rolling.
“I just rushed the throw,” Wong said.
With center fielder Jarren Duran loitering in shallow right, Diaz scored without a play.
“We were just watching like the rest of the 35,000 people here,” Cora said.
It’s the kind of play Cora admitted he has seen too many times in recent seasons. The Sox have been a poor defensive team for several years by any measure.
“In the end it’s on me. I’m the manager of this club and we’ve been sloppy,” Cora said. “It’s not about pointing fingers, right? The roster is the roster and we have to play better baseball. But I’m the manager of this team and defensively we’re not good. We’re not.”
Cora said the coaching staff would work with the players until they get it right.
“When? I don’t know,” he said. “If it’s tomorrow, it’s 59 games too late. But we’ve got to keep going.”
The Sox also gift-wrapped two runs in the fourth inning.
Luke Raley singled and Isaac Paredes walked to start the inning against Sox starter Tanner Houck. Taylor Walls tapped a ball in front of the plate and Wong looked to third base. Justin Turner took a step in and could not get back to the base in time to tag Raley.
Margot followed with a single to left field. Masataka Yoshida bobbled the ball and two runs scored as Paredes came around from second base.
The Sox also made a foolish mistake in the third inning. With runners on first and third, Josh Lowe sent a fly ball to center field. With little chance of preventing a run, Duran heaved a throw to the plate. It was late and the runner on first, Diaz, moved up to second.
Diaz did not score but it was a sign of what was to come.
“This game, you’ve got to be locked in on every play,” Cora said. “Before the play you’ve got to put everything in perspective. You’ve got to see it, what’s worth it and what’s not.”
Until Sunday, Verdugo and Wong had played well defensively this season.
“They try and put pressure on you,” Wong said. “You can’t give them extra outs.”
Houck (3-5) allowed four runs over five innings. The Sox are 0-5 in his last five starts.
Rays rookie Taj Bradley (4-2) went five innings for the win, allowing two runs on six hits and striking out six.
Verdugo was 3 for 5 with two doubles, a triple, and two runs scored.
The series finishes up Monday afternoon with Brayan Bello facing Tampa Bay ace Shane McClanahan. The lefthander is 4-1 with a 2.36 earned run average in six career starts against the Sox.
The Sox are 1-6 against the Rays this season and have been outscored by 17 runs.
“We need to be better on defense,” said Rafael Devers, who was the designated hitter on Sunday. “With a team like Tampa and how they play, you have to be ready. We need to work more.”