ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — With his usual late-inning relief pitchers in need of rest, Red Sox manager John Farrell turned to two prospects, Drake Britton and Rubby De La Rosa, against the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday night.
Britton passed his test, but not De La Rosa. He allowed a run in the eighth inning as the Rays beat the Red Sox, 4-3, before a crowd of 20,360 at Tropicana Field.
De La Rosa gave up doubles by Evan Longoria and Wil Myers, the second coming with two outs on a ball that landed an inch or two fair down the line in right field.
Despite the loss, the Red Sox were 5-2 on their road trip and return to Fenway Park for a nine-game homestand with an 8½-game lead in the American League East.
The Rays won for only the fifth time in 18 games. Tampa Bay is a game ahead of the Yankees in the wild-card race and has 17 games left to the Yankees’ 15.
The Red Sox and Rays are finished playing in the regular season. But Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon doesn’t believe that’s it.
“We’re really looking forward to playing them in the playoffs,” he said.
Whether the Rays get there is to be determined. The Red Sox surely will be and pitchers such as Britton and De La Rosa have to prove they belong on the postseason roster.
Britton, who has been with the Sox since July 14, has fallen down the bullpen depth chart in recent weeks and had only one appearance this month. But the 24-year-old lefthander started the seventh inning of a 3-3 game.
Britton issued a walk with one out then started a double play to end the inning, making a confident throw to second base. He then got the first out of the eighth inning before De La Rosa came on.
“It was nice to get back in there,” Britton said. “Anything you can do to contribute to wins, that’s what we’re here for. Tough situations like that are going to help you learn.”
For De La Rosa, it was only his eighth appearance of the season and the third since he was recalled from Triple A Pawtucket on Sept. 1.
“I like that situation. I wanted to be in there,” De La Rosa said. “I want the manager to trust me.”
The 24-year-old righthander, who has been working closely with Pedro Martinez over the last few days, got ahead of Longoria, 0 and 2, before leaving a slider over the plate that was driven to the gap in left.
With two outs, Myers hit a 97-mile-per-hour fastball that was down and in. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried to absorb some of the blame, saying he should have been more direct about where he wanted the ball. But De La Rosa acknowledged his mistake.
“It was supposed to be a little bit more down,” he said. “Had to make a better pitch.”
The desperate Rays turned a lead over to closer Fernando Rodney then closed their eyes until the game was over.
Stephen Drew reached on a single with one out. Mike Carp, who had a pinch-hit grand slam to win the game Wednesday, came off the bench again and this time drew a walk.
Will Middlebrooks pinch hit and hit a fastball on the barrel of his bat. But the line drive was right to Longoria at third base. Dustin Pedroia was next and he popped out to end the game. It was the 34th save for Rodney.
The Sox averaged 7.6 runs and 11 hits in the first six games of the trip. But they were held to six hits by four Rays pitchers.
Red Sox starter Jake Peavy walked five batters, matching his season high, over six innings. But he allowed only three runs and, most importantly, escaped injury when he was struck by a line drive in the sixth inning. The ball hit Peavy on the outer edge of the right wrist. He stayed in the game and got the final out of the inning before leaving after 107 pitches.
Peavy had his wrist wrapped after the game, but he said X-rays were negative.
“It’ll be OK,” he said. “I’m not worried about it.
Peavy was more concerned about his wildness.
“The stuff was good. Had to throw more strikes,” he said.
Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson gave up three runs on four hits over 5⅓ innings.
Two runs came on home runs by the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia snapped an 0-for-21 skid with a solo shot to right field in the fourth inning. Saltalamacchia swung at a full-count fastball that was up and over the outside corner and it landed in the seats for his 12th home run of the season.
David Ortiz connected in the sixth inning, his 27th of the season to go with 91 RBIs. Ortiz could reach 30 home runs and 100 RBIs for the first time since 2010.
Hellickson walked Saltalamacchia with one out in the sixth. Jamey Wright relieved him and struck out Jonny Gomes before Saltalamacchia stole second and scored on a double by Drew. It was the second steal of the season for Saltalamacchia and just the third of his career. But it helped the Red Sox tie the game at 3.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.