Nathan Eovaldi was cruising. He was sailing. Better yet, he was mowing the Rays down.
But after there were two outs, two strikes and nobody on base in the fourth inning, a couple of breaks went against Eovaldi and it broke the heavily-slumping Red Sox in an eventual 5-1 loss to the Rays on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.
Bad break number one: Eovaldi poured in a 96.3-mph heater on the inside corner to Yoshi Tsutsugo that sure looked like it was going to be called strike three. Instead, home-plate umpire Randy Rosenberg signaled ball four.
"I thought it was close," said Eovaldi. "I thought his strike zone was really good tonight. You know, it's hard for me to tell balls and strikes. I think a lot of them are there and tend not to be, but I've just got to move on and attack the next batter."
Bad break number two: Two batters later, Hunter Renfroe popped up the first pitch and Eovaldi thought he was headed back to the dugout. Third baseman Rafael Devers was under it in foul territory and waited and waited for the ball to come down. But lo and behold, the ball hit the B-ring catwalk before coming down, and it was a dead ball. Two pitches later, Renfroe smashed a two-run double and the Red Sox were behind for the first time of the night at 2-1.
"That's Tropicana for you," said Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez. "You never know. It's a strange place sometimes."
"It's the only park that has those rules, but you have to deal with it," added Eovaldi, who played for the Rays in 2018.
Things worsened in the fifth when Eovaldi got in more trouble -- this time all of his own doing -- and was down 4-1.
When a team is going well, it can shake off not only those bad breaks, but also the one in the third when Martinez appeared to have an RBI double that would have made it 2-0, Boston, only for the ball to take an awkward hop over the short left-field wall for a ground-rule double.
The Red Sox are going anything but well. Through 11 games, they are 3-8 and already six games back in the American League East.
"Huge," Martinez said of his bad-hop double. "It kind of shows you the way it's going right now. That ball hooks perfectly and just hits off the wall, ricochets, goes over. It just kind of shows you. That's a run right there -- big run, too."
With their starting rotation so thin, it hurt doubly for the Red Sox to lose one of Eovaldi's starts for the first time this season.
"Well, I don't want to feel that way, but I know what you're saying," said Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke. "We count on Nate to keep us in games, which he has. Because we know he has a big arm, we know every time he goes out there we think we're going to win."
Eovaldi (1-1, 3.94 ERA) allowed six hits and four runs over five innings, walking one and striking out six.
"I feel like I have to go out there and do a better job than what I did tonight, for sure," said Eovaldi. "Regardless of what the outcomes of the game are for us, any time I take the ball, I hold myself accountable for my job out there. Tonight, I felt like I needed to do a better job."
Another offensive letdown
The hope was that Sunday's seven-run output at Yankee Stadium, albeit in a loss, would get Boston's offense going again.
Instead, the Sox went back into a rut. Leadoff man Andrew Benintendi is hitting .069 after an 0-for-5 performance. Xander Bogaerts and Devers (.195 average, .616 OPS) went hitless after their Sunday productivity. Mitch Moreland's solo homer was the only significant hit Boston had against Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
The Sox did load the bases in the ninth and Benintendi came up as the potential tying run with two outs, but he went down looking to end the game.
At least Martinez, who later added another double, seems to be heating up.
"I've been grinding in the cage as much as I can," said Martinez. "But I feel like I found something today, maybe a little thought or something. I'm going to try to ride it out the next couple days, see what happens, build off it really."
The issue in this young season for Boston's offense has been the inability to sustain any momentum, be it inning to inning or game to game.
"I know we haven't scored enough runs like we're going to," Roenicke said. "I think we're getting closer to it. We had a lot of good at-bats today, and we had some opportunities. If we keep plugging along, I think the at-bats will continue to get better and I believe we'll start getting the big hits."
With just 49 games to go, Roenicke's belief must come true very soon for the Red Sox to stay in contention.