Red Sox unable to avoid sweep to Rays
Offense can't get on track as losing streak hits four games
ST. PETERSBURG -- As much as they wanted to avoid the indignity of being swept off the carpet of Tropicana Field, the Red Sox simply couldn't muster enough offense against David Price. And when Boston had one final crack against Matt Garza, who turned from starter to closer for one night, it put up a strong fight but couldn't get that one finishing hit.
So as they have done repeatedly and impressively over the past few weeks despite being without several star players, the Red Sox fought the good fight. But in keeping with the theme of these three nights at the Trop, they came up short, falling 6-4 to the Rays.
In fact, Boston lost all three of the games by two runs or less. And so it was that manager Terry Francona's squad packed up and out of Florida in the throes of a four-game losing streak. The Sox flew to Toronto after the game, where they can spend Thursday's off-day regrouping. They'll take the field again on Friday night for the start of a three-game series that will conclude the first half.
"This was a disappointing three days as far as getting wins," said Francona. "We ask our guys to try their best; to do their best. That's exactly what they're doing. We'll get on the plane, regroup and keep battling. This is actually kind of a fun group right now. This wasn't a real fun three days, but this is a fun group to work with. We'll figure it out."
The Sox gave themselves a chance for a dramatic ending. Daniel Nava opened the ninth with a triple to left-center and Mike Cameron brought him home on a sac fly. With Garza on in pursuit of the save -- the first of his career -- and Boston down to its last out, Darnell McDonald put together an epic 11 pitch-at-bat, belting a double to left-center to score J.D. Drew and make it a two-run game.
"Just up there battling, you know? Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose," said McDonald. "Luckily, today I was able to get a ball in there. I was just battling, telling myself, 'I don't want to be the last out.'"
Suddenly, the Red Sox had just the hitters they wanted coming to the plate. David Ortiz drew a walk. Kevin Youkilis, in his final at-bat before the Final Vote balloting expires on Thursday at 4 p.m. ET, came to the plate as the go-ahead run. But the first baseman -- who is narrowly behind Nick Swisher for the chance to become the American League's last All-Star -- lined out to center on a 1-0 pitch, ending the game.
"It was one of those days that the fight was too little, too late," said knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who took the loss. "Tip your hat to those guys. They played really good baseball these three days, and hopefully we can pick our heads up and have a welcomed day off tomorrow and try to turn it around in Toronto."
Wakefield, as he almost always does, had great movement on his knuckler in the domed stadium. But the problem was that he didn't always know where it was going. The righty gave up just four hits, six walks and six runs over 5 2/3 innings.
"I thought he had a knuckleball that had almost some violence to it," Francona said. "He gets in this kind of atmosphere in the dome and his ball moves all over the place. He threw a couple that [Kevin Cash] couldn't handle. There were a lot of walks. We didn't make all the plays. I thought he had a pretty good one. It was pretty violent."
Then there was Price, who displayed a different kind of violence courtesy of a fastball that ripped through the strike zone all night. Though the power lefty gave up eight hits, precious few of them wound up being impactful.
Of Price's 111 pitches, nearly all were fastballs.
"It was fastball, fastball, fastball, especially arm side," Francona said. "I looked up in the fourth inning -- I think he had thrown 12 balls. It was very impressive. I don't blame him. The command of that fastball, the way he was throwing it, I'm not sure I blame him. At that point, he was commanding so well."
The 49-36 Red Sox left town trailing the Rays by 2 1/2 games in the Wild Card standings.
"I said when we came in that this series was huge," Garza said. "It was going to separate us or separate them, and we came in and they're a little beat up, and we had to take advantage of that. It was a great time to take advantage of it."
Wakefield held the Rays down over the first three innings, but Evan Longoria changed that with one swing in the bottom of the fourth, clubbing a solo shot to left. Wakefield walked two batters later in the inning, and a wild pitch pushed runners to second and third. B.J. Upton hit a single off Marco Scutaro that brought home a run. It was originally scored an error before being changed.
While the Red Sox couldn't get much of anything going against Price, the Rays chipped away against Wakefield. Thanks to a passed ball by Cash, an RBI single by Carlos Pena and an error by Bill Hall, Tampa Bay took a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth.
"I just couldn't throw it for strikes," said Wakefield. "I ended up walking six guys and it probably cost us the game. I've had that much violence [before] and been able to throw it for strikes. I just couldn't make the adjustments to get over the plate, and obviously their approach changed after the second inning. I fell behind in the count. There's no excuses. I walked too many guys tonight and had too many guys on base."
Ortiz provided the first sign of life for Boston, going the other way and clubbing an RBI double off the wall in left, scoring McDonald all the way from first.
After Ben Zobrist drew a two-out walk in the sixth, Wakefield was removed in favor of lefty Dustin Richardson. Zobrist stole second and scored on a single up the middle by Carl Crawford.
Cameron again got the Sox within four, roping a solo shot to left against Price in the seventh.
Boston kept whittling away at Tampa Bay's lead, but it wasn't enough.
"They're wounded right now and you really do want to be able to take advantage of that moment, obviously," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "Psychologically, from their perspective, had they been able to do better during this time, it probably would have bolstered them a bit. But nevertheless, they also are solaced by the fact they aren't at full strength and they lost three games.
"There's all these different ways to look at it. It's always a rationalization process. But from our perspective, they weren't at full strength, and to be able to win these three games was very important in that regard."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.