ST. PETERSBURG -- Taylor Motter walked on four pitches during an at-bat where he was trying to get out. He'd stuck his bat out for a bunt, but Red Sox starter Rick Porcello couldn't hit the strike zone.
Porcello had already walked Desmond Jennings to start the inning. The right-hander walked Nick Franklin on four consecutive pitches right after Motter to give the Rays their first run in an eventual 8-2 loss at Tropicana Field. A pitcher who hadn't walked more than two batters in 19 straight starts had walked three in the fourth inning without getting an out.
"We had some guys have some good at bats," Rays shortstop Brad Miller said. "They were obviously taking some outside the zone and making him come in there."
It was Miller's strikeout three batters later that ended the fourth-inning threat without any additional damage. The Rays remained one run down when they had a chance for much more.
First, Hank Conger struck out. Then Logan Forsythe popped out. Miller lifted his arms trying to sell Porcello's 2-2 pitch as inside. But it was a called strike three and momentum shifted back to the Red Sox, who still had a 2-1 lead.
"It ultimately came down to the fourth inning," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We didn't get it done when we had an opportunity."
Porcello's temporary loss of the strike zone didn't extend to a nine-pitch fifth inning. Nor to a 1-2-3 sixth inning as the Rays' offense went quietly into the night.
"That fourth inning was a grind," Porcello said. "Dug myself a hole, really. Had to dig myself out of it. I was a little off mechanically and it was a little tough for me to regain my focus. ... I was able to regain my confidence and be a little more effective."
Porcello remained unbeaten over his last eight starts and the Rays lost their 12th game in 13 tries. The Rays were so close to erasing the lead. After Franklin walked, Conger had a 2-0 count, but he couldn't put the ball in play. Forsythe had a 3-1 count, but his popup barely went past second base.
Miller got ahead in the count 1-0, but he left regretting a missed opportunity that proved to be the turning point in Tampa Bay's loss.
"That's huge," Miller said. "If I can cash in there, we can take that momentum. I felt he gave me a pitch to hit and I missed it. And then he got me."