Normally a well-oiled baseball machine, the Tampa Bay Rays were uncharacteristically sloppy on Tuesday, at times almost daring the Red Sox to steal the game away.
But just when it looked like the Red Sox might pull it off, the Rays swiped it right back.
Trailing 5-2 entering the sixth inning the Red Sox scored three unanswered runs down the stretch to force extras and pulled ahead in the top of the 11th. But in the blink of an eye the game slipped away, with Brandon Lowe hitting a three-run walk-off home run off Kenley Jansen to win it 8-6.
Before that, Adam Duvall had just thrown out the potential game-winner at the plate to help Boston escape a perilous bottom of the 10th, and Luis Urias drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the 11th on a blooper to shallow right field.
Along the way the Red Sox also benefitted from two Tampa Bay errors and a number of other miscues on defense and the base paths, which nearly offset the numerous mistakes Boston made itself.
In the end, it wasn’t enough.
“It was a good game, we battled our (butts) off tonight and played good baseball against a team that they’re really good at what they do, but we’re good too,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters afterwards. “Just happened that we were short tonight.”
With four rookies in the starting lineup, Tuesday offered a window into the promise, and also the growing pains, fans can expect from the Red Sox recent call-ups.
In the first inning shortstop Ceddanne Rafaela singled but was caught stealing after over-sliding second base, then in the bottom of the frame he booted a routine grounder. Both were uncharacteristic mistakes for a player who has 36 stolen bases in the minors this season and who is widely regarded as an elite defensive talent.
Then in the second outfielder Wilyer Abreu lost a Jonathan Aranda fly ball in Tropicana Field’s drab roof, allowing it to fall in for an RBI triple. That should have been the final out of the inning, but instead Kutter Crawford wound up throwing another 16 pitches and gave up a two-run home run to Rene Pinto to put the Red Sox in an early 3-0 hole.
Crawford wasn’t without fault either. He walked Vidal Brujan after getting two quick outs and also walked Yandy Diaz following the Pinto homer. He ultimately walked four and threw a career-high 96 pitches to get through 3.2 innings, departing in the bottom of the fourth after walking Diaz again to load the bases.
Left-hander Joe Jacques, yet another rookie, then hit back to back batters to score two of Crawford’s inherited runners before drawing a flyout to escape the jam with the Red Sox trailing 5-2.
Fortunately, Boston’s youngsters also helped the Red Sox get back into the game.
Second baseman Enmanuel Valdez immediately answered Tampa Bay’s three-run second inning with a two-run home run of his own, launching a towering 389-foot shot into the right field stands.
Masataka Yoshida, technically also an MLB rookie, made one of the best defensive plays of his Red Sox career, grabbing a deep fly ball against the left field wall in the bottom of the third.
In a strange twist, the ball actually appeared to graze the outfield wall before bouncing into Yoshida’s glove, but the Rays didn’t notice immediately and by the time manager Kevin Cash went out to speak to the umpires, the time to issue a challenge had already expired.
Rafaela and Valdez later sparked what wound up being two of Boston’s best scoring opportunities. Leading off the top of the sixth with his second single, Rafaela eventually came around to score on Turner’s RBI infield single, which chased Tampa Bay starter Zach Eflin from the game. Triston Casas followed that with a walk to load the bases with no outs, but Rays relievers Colin Poche and Kevin Kelly sent down the next three Red Sox hitters to keep it a 5-3 game.
Then in the seventh Valdez singled and Rafaela reached on en error to put two men on with one out. That set the stage again for Turner, who these days seems to always deliver in clutch spots. His second RBI single was a scorched liner off the shortstop’s glove, giving the 38-year-old a career-high 91 RBI on the season.
Then, in very uncharacteristic fashion, the Rays committed a third defensive blunder to allow Boston to tie the game. Casas hit a pop-up into no-man’s land and three converging Rays players were unable to make the play. Officially it was ruled an RBI double, trying the game up at 5-5, and it also made Casas the 10th rookie in franchise history to tally 60 RBI and 60 walks.
He and Andrew Benintendi are also the only two Red Sox rookies to accomplish that feat since Fred Lynn’s MVP season in 1975.
Tampa Bay later ran itself out of the eighth inning after Yoshida made a great sliding grab in left and threw out Jonathan Aranda for the inning-ending double play, and John Schreiber pitched a perfect ninth to send the game to extras.
Once there, the Red Sox failed to score in the top of the 10th and quickly found themselves in dire straits after Jose Siri reached on a bunt that crossed up Boston’s infield. That put the ghost runner Josh Lowe at third, but the Red Sox fought their way out of trouble after Schreiber got a strikeout and then drew a flyout to shallow right. Lowe attempted to score what would have been the game-winning run, but Duvall gunned him down at the plate to end the inning.
In the end, it only prolonged the inevitable.
His error aside, Rafaela enjoyed a strong performance, going 3 for 6 with two runs scored. Valdez, Devers and Turner each had two hits as well, while Brandon Lowe finished with four RBI to lead Tampa Bay.
Following the game Cora said the Red Sox missed out on an opportunity to gain more ground in the playoff hunt.
“We have a chance, a lot of people don’t feel that way but you win and look around, it was a wasted quote-unquote opportunity tonight because we know what’s going on in other places,” Cora said, referring to Wild Card rival Texas’ latest loss. “It is what it is, we just have to keep playing hard, keep going and we’re going to be ok.”
The Red Sox will look to bounce back in Wednesday’s series finale. Nick Pivetta will get the ball for Boston, first pitch is scheduled for 6:40 p.m.
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