Sox series comes to frustrating end for Rays

September 9th, 2021

BOSTON -- Trailing by a run with two outs in the ninth inning Wednesday night, Joey Wendle ripped a line drive to center field. Red Sox outfielder Danny Santana dove for the ball and missed the catch, so Wendle glanced out to see right fielder Hunter Renfroe’s back facing him and then rounded second base, heading for third.

But Renfroe, the former Ray, made an excellent throw that took one bounce into third baseman Bobby Dalbec’s glove. Dalbec applied the tag, and all Wendle could do was kneel on the bag with his head down in obvious frustration at the end of the Rays’ 2-1 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

“Honestly, I thought it was an easy read. But obviously not,” Wendle said afterward. “On the flip side, you've got to tip your cap to him. He threw the ball about 270 feet on a dime to get me on a bang-bang play. In hindsight, shouldn't have gone, but I think if I make that read 99 times out of 100, I'm safe at third base. It's a calculated risk that, at the time, I was willing to take.”

The Rays were unable to complete a three-game sweep at Fenway Park, but they still won the series and have taken 13 of their last 17 games heading into Thursday’s off-day. There was some movement behind them in the American League East standings, as the Red Sox's victory, combined with another Yankees loss, moved Boston into second place, nine games behind first-place Tampa Bay.

After seven innings of scoreless baseball dominated by Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, Rays lefty Shane McClanahan (taken out after five efficient innings to manage his workload) and relievers Andrew Kittredge and Pete Fairbanks, Wednesday’s series finale came down to a back-and-forth final inning and a half.

After scoring 23 runs in the first two games of this series, the Rays were shut down by Eovaldi’s five-pitch mix, which produced 20 swinging strikes, before they finally got on the board in the eighth. Brandon Lowe singled with two outs, Wander Franco extended his on-base streak to 38 games with a walk, then Nelson Cruz drove in the game’s first run on a single to center field.

In came right-hander Matt Wisler, fresh off the 10-day injured list after missing 3 1/2 weeks due to right middle finger inflammation. The issue lingered longer than the Rays initially expected, but he was seemingly in the clear when he rejoined the bullpen on Wednesday. However, manager Kevin Cash said Wisler’s finger injury resurfaced while he was getting ready in the bullpen, which means he’s likely to return to the 10-day IL.

“When [Wisler] came in the game, he had expressed that he had felt it warming up and kind of gave us reason for concern,” Cash said. “I can't imagine how he doesn't go back on the IL. We don't want him to pitch with his finger bothering him.”

Wisler threw only five pitches to Alex Verdugo, and gave up a leadoff single, before Cash came to the mound accompanied by first assistant athletic trainer Mark Vinson and took the ball from the right-hander.

“Talking to him on the mound, he's like, ‘Yeah, I feel it, but I can gut it out.’ Well, that doesn't work,” Cash said. “He's too valuable to us where we're at right now.”

He was replaced by right-hander JT Chargois, who recorded two outs before Renfroe -- who else? -- bashed a two-run homer to left-center field. Chargois said after the game he felt “loose and ready to go,” not at all rushed by the circumstances of Wisler’s quick exit. Chargois threw a bunch of sharp sliders to Kyle Schwarber and fired a 98.2 mph sinker at the bottom of the zone against Enrique Hernández, but he left a first-pitch slider up in the zone to Renfroe.

“I don't think I've had the right fingers to get Renfroe out in the whole time we've faced him,” catcher Mike Zunino marveled. “It's a really good hitter that's swinging the bat well right now, and a pitch we probably wish we got a little bit more down, but what can you do about it?”

That was more or less the Rays’ feeling after Renfroe’s game-ending throw from just in front of the warning track, too. Renfroe, who leads the Majors with 16 outfield assists after throwing out Manuel Margot in the fourth and Wendle in the ninth, said he knew “if I made a good, strong throw and it was accurate, I had a chance” to beat Wendle to the bag.

Cash placed no fault on Wendle, crediting him for aggressively trying to get to third base so he could potentially score the tying run on a wild pitch or passed ball. Instead, the manager simply tipped his cap to Renfroe. So did Wendle, frustrating as it might have been.

“Certainly beating myself up about that. And in hindsight, should not have run, should not have tested his arm there,” Wendle said. “I’d take us in that game 10 times out of 10. Same guy got us on the offensive side, too. He’s seeing the ball really well -- and throwing it pretty well, too, unfortunately for Manny and myself tonight.”