The hits just keep on coming, unfortunately just not for the Boston Red Sox. The Tampa Bay Rays finished off a three-game sweep over the reigning World Series Champions with a 7-6 victory Wednesday night at Tropicana Field and in doing so increased their AL East lead to 3 ½ games over the struggling Sox.
“It’s a really good feeling. I can’t tell you that I expected it—I’d be lying—but right now we do expect to win on a nightly basis,” manager Joe Maddon said after the Rays improved the best record in baseball to 20 games over .500 at 52-32.
Rookie Evan Longoria went 3-for-4 while driving in three runs to lead the way for the Rays in their second series sweep of the season over Boston on their home field. Longoria connected on an RBI single in the first inning off of Red Sox starter Dice-K Matsuzaka and then delivered the big blow in the seventh inning when he smacked a two-RBI double to left-center field off of reliever Craig Hansen to put the Rays on top 5-4 at the time.
The Sox were unable to hold on to a three run lead which they had built up over five innings off of Rays starting pitcher Scott Kazmir. A Dustin Pedroia homerun in the first inning put the Sox up early 1-0 but Longoria tied things up in the bottom half of the first with his RBI single. Manny Ramirez would put the Sox back up 2-1 with an RBI groundout in the third inning which scored Pedroia who had tripled earlier in the frame.
Boston tacked on two more runs in the fifth inning on a J.D. Drew triple that scored Pedroia. Drew then scored on a Kazmir wild pitch to give the Sox a 4-1 lead.
After Hideki Okajima pitched a scoreless sixth inning, Manny Delcarmen came on to work the seventh inning and that’s when things went south for Boston. Delcarmen was not able to retire any batter that he faced, allowing three hits in a row to Josh Barlett, Akinori Iwamura and Carl Crawford.
Sox manager Terry Francona had seen enough and summoned Craig Hansen from the pen to try and get out of the bases loaded jam. Only problem with this move was that Hansen’s performance was as equally as pathetic as Delcarmen’s. Hansen would also not retire any batter he faced, walking two and allowing the two-RBI double to Longoria that gave the Rays the lead for good.
“We missed a lot of opportunities to spread the game out,” Francona said. “But still saying that, we had a lead … they got to Delcarmen, and things unraveled in a hurry.”
Once again, the Sox were able to score two runs late in the game to cut the Rays lead to one but were unable to tie the score before the game’s final out.
“It reaffirms to us that we can play against these guys and we can beat the Red Sox,” Maddon said. “Now we have to prove that we can beat them in Fenway Park also.”
He’s right. The Rays are 6-0 against Boston this season at Tropicana Field and 0-6 against them at Fenway Park. The teams will not meet again until a three game series at Fenway in early September, followed by another three game set in Tampa Bay the following week.
One positive note for the Sox was the performance by 2B Dustin Pedroia. On the game Pedroia went 4-for-5 with a home run, triple and two doubles. He had two RBI’s and extended his hitting streak to 10 games. Over the course of the streak he is 25-44 for a .568 batting average with three homers. Even with the great numbers, the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year is not happy with the result in the series sweep.
“This series, they played better than us. They pitched better than us. They hit in the clutch better than us,” Pedroia said. “That’s why we didn’t win any games.”
Things will not get any easier for Boston as they now travel to New York for four games against their arch rivals. The Yankees are not exactly playing great baseball but always elevate their level of play for this match up.
In tonight’s match up, two lefties will take the mound in a battle of the southpaws. Jon Lester will toss for the Sox while Andy Pettitte will chuck for the Yanks.
Here are the other pitching match ups for the remainder of the series:
Fri, Jul 4 1:05 pm EDT J. Beckett vs. D. Rasner
Sat, Jul 5 3:55 pm EDT J. Masterson vs. M. Mussina
Sun, Jul 6 8:05 pm EDT T. Wakefield vs. J. Chamberlain