Tuesday evening, David Price treated Fenway Park to the version of him they watched last October.
Before the sun set, he lost his fastball, and a lead, and the Red Sox couldn’t make good on their golden chances.
After a 6-5 loss to the Rays on the eve of Wednesday’s trade deadline, the Red Sox are anticipating bullpen upgrades, while wondering when the starters that carried them to the World Series will begin carrying more of the load.
The lefthander struck out eight Rays through the first four innings, every victim retired on a fastball. He hadn’t had that kind of finishing success with his hard stuff all year. He challenged them with heat that touched 95 miles per hour.
Afterward, he said he felt great: “The best I’ve felt in a while.”
But he didn’t make it out of the fifth after blowing a 3-1 lead.
“Everything was middle-middle, down, and they put some good swings on it,” manager Alex Cora said of Price’s command in his final inning, calling the lefty’s location “way off.”
It’s been that way for a month. It started in Detroit, “a lot of foul balls, grinding at-bats,” Cora said, and continued in Baltimore. He’s had his velocity, sure, but couldn’t paint the edges.”
“It’s been a grind the last five or six starts,” said Price, who allowed solo homers to Travis d’Arnaud and Avisail Garcia in the fateful fifth, both on batting-practice offerings. Price has given up six homers in his last four starts (19⅓ innings). Before that, he went six starts (29⅓ innings) without one against.
Additionally, Price, who has allowed 13 earned runs in his last three starts (14⅓ innings), has not pitched into the seventh inning since June 2 against the Yankees.
“Outs are tough to get. It’s been tough just throwing strikes,” he said. “I’ve got some stuff to address before I take the next four days before I pitch in New York. It’s going to get better.”
Following Price’s departure, Andrew Benintendi’s two-run homer gave Boston a 5-4 lead, but the bullpen handed the game back to Tampa Bay (61-48), who left the ballpark holding the second wild-card spot. Boston (59-49) was 1½ games back.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is likely to augment the bullpen before 4 p.m. Wednesday. His last look was at a collection of six arms that coughed up a pair of one-run leads, and struggled with location over 4⅔ innings.
The first of the arms in relief, Marcus Walden, allowed an RBI ground out to make it 4-3. After Benintendi’s blast, the Red Sox trailed, 6-5, when Garcia’s two-run, wall-scraper double off Colton Brewer to put the visitors ahead for good.
That knock made a loser of Josh Taylor (0-1), who allowed a single to his only batter and was charged with an earned run. Before that, the Red Sox had blown one save in the month of July, tied for the fewest in the AL, but those in the clubhouse were anticipating a move.
“We haven’t put our best foot forward yet,” Price said. “That’s a good sign considering where we are in the standings right now. I look forward to seeing what happens tomorrow. I think everybody else does, too.”
The Red Sox offense needs no upgrades, but Tuesday it went 3 for 15 with runners in scoring position, left the bases loaded in the eighth and with runners on the corners in the ninth.
“They made some good pitches in big spots, especially in the eighth inning,” Benintendi said of the Rays. “They have some unique arms. A lot of them have high spin-rate fastballs or just power arms. It can be a grind against them to square something up.”
Emilio Pagan jammed red-hot Rafael Devers with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth, and picked up his eighth save by retiring Christian Vazquez to end the game, after Benintendi reached on a two-out bloop and Sam Travis singled him to third.
In the second of this three-game set, Tampa Bay will see Rick Porcello at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday.
Benintendi, hammering lefties of late, had made it 5-4 in the fifth when he sent the first pitch from Rays reliever Adam Kolarek over the left-field wall in the fifth. Kolarek supplanted starter Charlie Morton, who allowed four earned runs in 4⅔ innings.
The Red Sox put together several good at-bats against a pitcher, Morton, who owned them last Wednesday at Tropicana Field. That afternoon, Morton struck out 11 in seven innings, allowing five hits and two runs with Cy Young stuff.
Morton initially pulled back the ball from Cash when the manager reached the mound and extended his hand. He was seemingly surprised to be asked out so soon, after seven hits, four earned runs, two walks and two strikeouts.
Price, on the other hand, submitted willingly. His next start will be better, he believes.
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports