For all the many twists and turns they took to get there Tuesday night, the Rays were still where they wanted to be in the 12th inning at Fenway Park: one strike away from victory.
But what would have been a wild win for the Rays turned into a dispiriting, 6-5 defeat in just four pitches. After reliever Ryan Thompson hit Alex Verdugo, two Red Sox runners moved into scoring position on a wild pitch, and J.D. Martinez drove in both of them on a walk-off double that sailed over a twisting, turning and leaping Randy Arozarena.
And just like that, the Rays marched off the field following a back-and-forth game that saw another dominant six-inning start from Tyler Glasnow, rare slips by high-leverage relievers Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo, a baserunning gaffe by Willy Adames later redeemed with a sharp stop in the infield and an extra-inning RBI, a terrific 10th inning performance by Andrew Kittredge, and a key out called on a ball that Manuel Margot seemed to hit off the Green Monster.
In the end, it was the Rays’ third straight loss. It cinched just their second series loss in the last 18 regular-season series dating back to last Aug. 4, their first series loss to the Red Sox since July 22-24, 2019, and their first series loss at Fenway Park since Aug. 17-19, 2018.
And in the end, they were one strike away.
Thompson said it was just an off night for him, but he nonetheless managed to end the 11th inning by retiring Hunter Renfroe and started the 12th, with the automatic runner on second base, by getting through Enrique Hernández and Christian Arroyo. Up came Verdugo, who fell behind by fouling off three straight pitches. Thompson’s fourth fastball ran way inside, plunking Verdugo in the hip.
“Just one of those that Thompson just got on the outside a little bit,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “If we get that elevated, Verdugo, we like that pitch there.”
Still, Thompson had a chance to get out of the inning. But he yanked another fastball, this one on the first pitch to Martinez, allowing both runners to advance. With the winning run now on second, Thompson spun a pair of sliders at Martinez. The Red Sox slugger fouled off the first one and then drove the second deep to right field.
“I didn’t have a good feel today. I yanked the fastball that I think would’ve got a ground ball if I would have thrown it where I wanted,” Thompson said. “Then the sliders, all day, even the ones where I got outs on them, I was just leaving them middle. Everything was just kind of spinning, not moving.”
And Martinez took advantage, sending the ball over Arozarena’s head. Arozarena was just one night removed from making the early defensive highlight of the season, a leaping grab in the right-center-field gap, but he had trouble tracking the 12th-inning drive on a chilly night in Boston. Arozarena twisted once and turned again, finally making a futile leap for the ball as it landed behind him and allowed both runners to score.
“Randy’s about as close to Superman as you can get,” Thompson said. “I’m a sinkerball guy. I can’t let J.D. hit that ball like he did. That’s on me, 100 percent.”
Martinez, for one, understood the difficulty of making that play.
“It’s Fenway in the winter. I feel like you never know if the ball is going to go or not,” Martinez said. “I think he had to play it exactly how he played it. Winning run is on second base. He’s got to shade in on that. That’s pretty much the only ball that could beat him there.”
Coming off two very un-Rays-like pitching performances, Tampa Bay needed a return to normalcy Tuesday night. For seven innings, they got it. Strong starting pitching from Glasnow. Timely hits from Manuel Margot and Joey Wendle. High-leverage relief work from Cody Reed and Fairbanks in the seventh.
But the formula only got them so far. Fairbanks gave up a run in the eighth and Christian Vázquez homered off Castillo to begin the ninth, erasing the Rays’ two-run lead and sending the game to extra innings.
“You’ve got to tip your cap. To be able to sit on 96-plus with some sink and barrel it up, good piece of hitting,” Zunino said of the Vázquez home run. “We’ll learn from that situation and go from there.”
Kittredge held the line in the 10th, the two sides traded runs in the 11th, and Tampa Bay scored one run before finally surrendering two with one strike to go in the 12th.
“Yeah, not ideal,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I mean, look, we’re one strike away with a guy on second base. I think he was trying to run a fastball up again. … Just kind of pulled it and got him in the hip. Then J.D., he’s been swinging the bat well from Opening Day on, so he got us.”