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Timely-hitting disparity has Rays facing elimination

Tampa Bay batting .143 with runners in scoring position, Boston at .393

BOSTON -- Set aside the unusually poor defense and the uncharacteristically shaky starting pitching these last two games, and the story of the Rays' American League Division Series thus far is a familiar one: They haven't taken advantage of their scoring opportunities. The Red Sox have.

It's been the case all season, arguably the biggest reason Tampa Bay won only seven of 19 meetings against Boston this year, and it's been no different in Boston's two postseason wins this weekend to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. The Rays are hitting .143 (2-for-14) with runners in scoring position, while the Red Sox are hitting .393 (11-for-28).

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"That's been our problem. We've really been unable to hit well with runners in scoring position," Rays manager Joe Maddon said after Saturday's 7-4 loss in Game 2 at Fenway Park. "We get guys out there all the time, like we did tonight, again. Double plays hurt us tonight and, overall, just not able to break through with the clutch hit vs. these guys, whereas they've done it against us."

The numbers back that up, especially at Fenway Park. In eight losses here this year, the Rays have managed only 13 runs and batted .173 (44-for-255), including .078 (4-for-51) with runners in scoring position.

The Rays' three most important hitters were among the main offenders Saturday, as Wil Myers, Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist went a combined 1-for-10 with two walks, three strikeouts and two double plays. It started in the first inning, when David DeJesus drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on James Loney's single, only for Longoria to end the rally by grounding into a double play.

"We got [Red Sox starter John Lackey] on the ropes a couple times, but he made those big pitches and was able to get out of the jams," Longoria said. "It's frustrating, and you want to come through in those situations, but at the same time, you've got to tip your hat to him.

"They had some breaks go their way and we didn't have timely hitting. We're going to need those things. I think at this point you've got to be happy that we're going back home and we're still playing baseball."

Even in the second inning, when the Rays did scratch across a run against Lackey, they wasted an opportunity for more. Zobrist walked to lead off the inning, hustling around to third on Desmond Jennings' base hit. But all Delmon Young could manage was a sacrifice fly to right field, then Yunel Escobar flied out to center. Jennings moved himself into scoring position by stealing second base, but Jose Molina struck out to end the inning.

"We had our opportunities. We did," Zobrist said. "We didn't make good on enough of them."

But the Rays did manage to capitalize on one chance in the fifth, as Escobar hit a leadoff double and moved to third on Myers' flyout to right. Loney then doubled to center field, bringing home Escobar, and Longoria extended the two-out rally with a walk. That gave Zobrist a chance to at least tie the game, with a two-run deficit and two men on, but he instead took an inning-ending called third strike.

"I thought it was a ball. Obviously, that's why I took it," Zobrist said. "But [home-plate umpire Eric Cooper] saw it differently."

Zobrist was on the wrong end of another failed rally in the seventh, coming to the plate with runners on first and second before Dustin Pedroia started a huge 4-6-3 double play -- the same way the eighth inning ended.

"Bad spot. They played great defense," Zobrist said. "They just played better than us. Bottom line."

The bottom line for Saturday's game, for this series and for seemingly every game the Rays have lost to the Red Sox this season.

Game 3 is at 6 p.m. ET Monday at Tropicana Field, televised on TBS.

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.

Tampa Bay Rays