ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Add this to the list of unusual, upsetting, and unexpected occurrences that have defined this Red Sox season like mile markers on a highway leading nowhere.
An otherwise standard 3-2 loss against Tampa Bay turned chaotic in the top of the eighth inning on Wednesday afternoon when the Rays moved lefthanded reliever Adam Kolarek to first base and called in righthander Chaz Roe to face Mookie Betts.
Betts flied out to left field, then the Rays put Kolarek back on the mound for Rafael Devers.
That’s all standard for the creative Rays and manager Kevin Cash.
But it somehow started a series of discussions that led to one pitch being thrown over 21 minutes as the four umpires debated Sox manager Alex Cora about the Tampa Bay lineup and who belonged where.
The Sox contended it was an illegal substitution and played the remainder of the game under protest.
“There’s a lot there,” Cora said. “It’s kind of hard to explain.”
Where Kolarek fit into the lineup was the basis of the dispute. Crew chief Angel Hernandez told a pool reporter that the Rays gained no advantage.
The Red Sox may well be correct about the mechanics of how the lineup was changed. But it’s unlikely Major League Baseball will have the teams replay the game from the point of the protest.
Two of the last three protests upheld by the commissioner’s office involved games called too soon because of rain with the other being the famed George Brett pine tar game of 1983.
To find a rules interpretation on the field overturned before that, you have to go back to Aug. 22, 1979 when an Astros-Mets game was partially replayed a day later because of a disagreement involving time being called.
Cora was passionate about the Sox being in the right. His players were far less enthused. They seem to have become numb to everything that has happened this season.
From “home” games in London to weird injuries and four-hour rain delays in Detroit when it was sunny for half the time, it has been a year of unexpected obstacles.
The standings tell you the Red Sox are very much in contention for a wild-card playoff spot. But nothing about their season to date suggests a satisfying outcome.
After a 3-3 trip marked by two embarrassing losses in Baltimore, the Sox host the Yankees for four games starting on Thursday night.
Because of the London trip last month, Thursday will be the latest the Yankees have played at Fenway Park for the first time since the strike-shortened 1981 season when their first game in Boston was on Sept. 18.
The last time the Yankees and Sox played in Boston was Game 2 of their Division Series last Oct. 6. David Price was pulled in the second inning after allowing three runs, and the Yankees went on to a 6-2 victory as Gary Sanchez hit two long home runs.
The Sox wiped out their rivals, 16-1, in Game 3 in the Bronx and went on to win the World Series.
Now it’s the Yankees who have the best record in the American League, with the Red Sox trying to catch them.
“They’re playing well. We can’t hide it. It’ll be fun this weekend,” Cora said.
Or so he hopes. The Sox are 1-6 against the Yankees this season, outscored by 20 runs. Tack three more losses to that record this weekend, and Dave Dombrowski might wake up Monday morning with an urge to start selling off players and adding prospects.
The Yankees made their moves in the winter, improving a 100-win team by signing infielder DJ LeMahieu and quality setup man Adam Ottavino, and trading for starter James Paxton.
“I’ve been saying all along, DJ’s a game-changer for them,” Cora said. “The approach, putting the ball in play, going the other way, playing defense. I got to meet the guy at the All-Star Game and he’s very professional, very quiet. You can tell that he understands the game.
“It’s one of those signings that not too many people talked about it, but I think it changed the way they approach their at-bats.”
Price lost a 2-0 lead on Wednesday, giving up three runs over six innings. He is 0-2 since wading back into his feud with broadcaster Dennis Eckersley, another one of the unneeded diversions this season.
Price pitched well, just not well enough.
“It’s crunch time for us right now,” Price said. “I think we all understand that in the clubhouse. Just go out there and win tomorrow.”
As the Sox were packing up and getting ready to leave for the airport, Matt Barnes looked at a weather map on his phone and saw a string of storms across Florida that would make the flight home a bumpy one.
“Just what we need,” he said.
At this point, the Sox should be used to it.