ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays’ lineup had trouble from start to finish on Thursday night, managing only five hits while striking out 10 times and only advancing one runner to second base. Most of Shane McClanahan's trouble, meanwhile, came at the start of innings.
Tampa Bay was shut out for the sixth time this season by Red Sox pitchers Eduardo Rodriguez and Garrett Richards, while McClanahan gave up four runs in five innings -- three of them scored by leadoff hitters who reached safely -- as the Rays lost the series finale, 4-0, and split the four-game set with Boston at Tropicana Field.
On the heels of a nine-game winning streak, the Rays (84-50) have lost consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 14-15, but they still own a 6 1/2-game lead over the Yankees (77-56) in the American League East and a 5 1/2-game edge over the Astros (78-55) for the best record in the AL with 28 left to play in the regular season.
Tampa Bay entered play on Thursday with the Majors’ highest-scoring lineup, a group averaging 5.35 runs per game this season, but it was limited to just two runs over the last two games against the Red Sox.
“Our offense, as good as it's been, you're going to run into a couple ballgames where it can go quiet,” manager Kevin Cash said. “And it feels like the last two nights, that's kind of what's taken place.”
The Rays went just 6-for-38 with runners in scoring position during this series, and they were hitless in their final 19 at-bats in those situations. The Red Sox, meanwhile, hit .379 (11-for-29) with runners in scoring position in the series.
Those timely hits mattered in the finale, as Boston did all of its damage against McClanahan without an extra-base hit. The Red Sox strung together eight singles against him, although just about everything they put in play was hit hard on a frustrating night for the rookie left-hander, and capitalized on three of the four occasions in which McClanahan allowed the leadoff man to reach safely.
“It’s not like I got tagged for home runs or extra-base hits. It's just one of those nights where it didn't go my way,” McClanahan said. “Kudos to them. It's a good hitting team. But I'd like to think sometimes that eight singles isn't going to get the job done, but I've got to do a better job executing pitches.”
It started in the first inning, when Boston scratched across a run on three singles -- the first a leadoff single by Hunter Renfroe, the other two with two outs -- with exit velocities of 109.3, 107.6 and 104.6 mph.
After that, a pair of leadoff walks came back to haunt McClanahan. He lost a seven-pitch battle against Danny Santana to begin the second inning, and Santana moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. With two outs, Renfroe smacked a two-strike slider -- and again hit it hard, at 110.5 mph -- to left field for an RBI single against his former club.
“They had a lot of hard-hit balls,” McClanahan said. “It just shows how frustrating baseball can be. Some nights, those balls find defenders, and some nights those balls find the turf for base hits or whatever. But I need to do a better job of executing pitches, especially ones that are 0-2 and early in the count.”
After facing the minimum in the third and fourth innings, McClanahan began the fifth by walking No. 9 hitter Jonathan Araúz on 11 pitches -- six of which he fouled off. The hits bothered McClanahan, obviously, but the walks might have been more frustrating.
“I can control whether or not I walk people, so yeah,” he said.
Kyle Schwarber then singled to put runners on first and second, then J.D. Martinez ripped a 110.1 mph single to left to make it a 3-0 game. After striking out Rafael Devers, McClanahan gave up his eighth and final hit, an RBI single to center by Bobby Dalbec. That ended McClanahan’s streak of 13 consecutive starts of allowing three runs or fewer, the fourth longest by a traditional starter in club history.
“That leadoff guy created a little havoc, and then Boston's lineup put together some good at-bats,” Cash said.
But McClanahan’s outing was not without its silver linings.
He struck out a career-high-tying eight batters and only walked two, although his free passes were costly. He kept the ball in the park. He completed five innings for the 12th time in his last 13 outings, a stretch during which he’s posted a 3.39 ERA.
McClanahan forced the Sox to swing and miss on 19 of his 88 pitches, his second-highest whiff total of the season, with five on his slider and seven each on his fastball and curveball. McClanahan, Cash and catcher Mike Zunino all thought his stuff was good. But he didn’t get any support from the Rays’ lineup, leading to his first loss since July 27.
“There was a lot of swing-and-miss. I thought his stuff was good. The punchouts were there,” Zunino said. “They just got some timely hits that ended up coming back and hurting us, but at the end of day, when we don't score any, there's not too much to nitpick.”