ST. PETERSBURG -- After 34 consecutive days of holding at least a share of first place in the American League East, the Red Sox fell from their perch with a disjointed 9-5 loss to the Rays on Saturday night at Tropicana Field.
First-time All-Star Nathan Eovaldi, who had easily been Boston’s best starting pitcher for the last several weeks, didn’t make the key pitches when he needed to, allowing six hits and six runs (five earned) in 5 1/3 innings. Eovaldi had a 3-0 lead before he even threw a pitch, but the game was tied by the bottom of the third.
“I felt like that game was on me tonight,” said Eovaldi. “I definitely could’ve done better. Our guys battled all the way back. We tied it up 5-5, and I gave it up in the sixth inning.”
The offense had the bases loaded with one out in the sixth, and didn’t score. It loaded them up again in the seventh, this time with two outs, and didn’t score. The Sox were 1-for-7 on the night with runners in scoring position and left seven on base.
“I mean, a lot of chances. We had a lot of chances, we had a lot of opportunities to put some runs on the board,” said Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts. “Just one swing away, one different bounce could have changed pretty much the whole outcome of all the games that we played in [recently].”
Defense was also an issue on Saturday. Jonathan Araúz, filling in at a time when Marwin Gonzalez and Christian Arroyo are both on the injured list, made two errors in the third inning at second base.
“A little hesitation on the first one,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “He was playing back, kind of like had a stutter step, and then it was an in-between hop. The other one, he rushed himself to turn a double play. It sucks, right, because yesterday he had such a great game defensively at third base, and then he has those two plays at second. Obviously, he’s not trying to make errors, but at the same time, I know he’s down on himself.”
The bottom line is that the Red Sox haven’t played well of late, losing three in a row and four of their last five. Cora’s club is 8-9 since the Saturday before the All-Star break.
While every good team goes through a lull, this stretch is being magnified in light of the decision by the front office not to make big pitching additions leading up to the Trade Deadline.
In fairness, the Sox did add a significant bat in Kyle Schwarber and expect ace Chris Sale back around Aug. 10. Schwarber should also debut around that time as he returns from his right hamstring strain. Gonzalez, Arroyo and Ryan Brasier are others who could offer help when they return from the injured list.
“We’re a good team. We’re really good,” said Bogaerts. “We’re just going through a rough stretch right now.”
Though the Rays have already won this three-game series, the Sox can at least take first place back from their division rivals before leaving town if they can take the Sunday night finale.
“I know tomorrow’s a huge game for us, although it’s [only] August,” said Bogaerts. “I think a lot of guys are going to be happy for it to be August, to be honest, you know what I mean? I can’t wait to see what that month has in store.”
After going 17-10 in April, 15-11 in May and 18-10 in June, the Sox went 13-12 in July.
Maybe the Red Sox had their “dog days” in July, rather than August.
“Hopefully I can come through for this team in a big way these last couple of months that we have,” said Bogaerts. “We haven’t been playing the way we want to, but it would be special to help out in a big way and have everyone hot at the same time. I know there’s a lot of guys that don’t feel their swing right now.
“You know, things are going to turn around. That’s just the way this game is. If you continue to put the work in, you’re going to see results. If you just sit back and hope for the best, it doesn’t work like that. You have to show up and put in the extra work or the early work.”
Why does Bogaerts feel that Sunday’s game is so big?
“I know there’s still two months of baseball left,” said Bogaerts. “But for us, [Sunday], it’s huge. We’re playing the guys that are neck and neck with us in the division. I know there’s two months left, but we need a win tomorrow.”