The first contest of a pivotal three-game series between the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays proved a return home won’t be enough for Boston to put its ill-timed slump behind it.
Yet another bullpen meltdown cost the Red Sox in an 8-4 loss Tuesday. The defeat was their 11th in their last 14 games and sixth straight at the hands of the Rays, who have opened a five-game advantage in the American League East standings.
The series continues Wednesday when Boston right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (9-7, 4.07 ERA) opposes Tampa Bay left-hander Josh Fleming (9-5, 4.12).
The Red Sox led 4-2 entering the seventh inning on Tuesday when Ji-Man Choi’s pinch-hit double with one out knotted the score. In the ninth, Matt Barnes was tagged for a leadoff ground-rule double before walking two to load the bases with two outs.
Francisco Mejia stepped in for the Rays and lined a hanging curveball to right to clear the bases after Hunter Renfroe was charged with an error in the outfield. Brandon Lowe’s single made it four runs allowed for Barnes, who has given up seven runs across four appearances in a four-day span.
“He’s doing his best,” manager Alex Cora said of his All-Star closer. “(The workload) is not fair, obviously, but he wants to do it. He’s willing to do it. But it’s been a grind for him lately.”
Barnes’ ERA has jumped from 2.25 on Aug. 4 to 3.52 during his rough stretch. “We still trust the guy,” Cora said.
While Boston’s struggles continue, Tampa Bay has won five straight, including four on the road to start a nine-game trip. The Rays are 9-2 in their last 11 games to improve to a season-high 25 games over .500.
Each of Tampa Bay’s victories during its current streak have been of the comeback variety. Choi’s game-tying hit Tuesday snapped a career-long 0-for-19 skid, though he was removed with left hamstring soreness after sliding into second base.
“For Ji to come off the bench like that and put together the at-bat he does, it’s very impressive and a huge testament to him,” said Lowe, who was 3-for-4 with a solo home run in the win. Lowe has eight RBIs in his last three games.
Fleming last pitched Aug. 4, holding the Seattle Mariners to two runs over five innings in a winning effort. The southpaw has alternated between the rotation and bullpen this season, although his last four appearances have been starts.
Fleming beat the Red Sox on July 30 (three runs allowed in five innings) and is 1-0 with a 5.79 ERA in two career starts against the club.
Eovaldi was shelled for seven runs over 4 2/3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays in his last start. This followed him giving up six runs (five earned) in 5 1/3 innings against the Rays in a loss July 31. Eovaldi is winless in his last five starts.
Lifetime, the righty is 3-6 with a 5.24 ERA in 12 appearances (10 starts) vs. Tampa Bay.
–Field Level Media