ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Well, that’s one way to rectify a problem with hitting with men in scoring position: Stop putting men in scoring position.
David Ortiz hit a three-run home run in the first inning, but the Sox managed just one hit the rest of the way as they lost Tuesday for the ninth time in 11 games, 5-3 to the Tampa Bay Rays, who now have won six straight and are just a game and a half behind the third-place Sox.
Whatever good fortune the Red Sox received when Dustin Pedroia’s ground ball struck the third-base bag in the first inning, transforming it into a double, was more than offset in the Rays’ five-run fourth, when the big hits were a checked-swing RBI double by Luke Scott and a pop fly into the catwalk by Matt Joyce, the ball falling undetected by first baseman Mike Napoli for a tiebreaking two-run single.
John Lackey had escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third but looked like he could have chewed the cover off the baseball in the fourth after Joyce’s infield fly fell behind Napoli as Jose Molina and Yunel Escobar crossed the plate.
Lackey was lifted after a more conventional double by James Loney with one out in the fifth, and the Sox pen contributed 3 2/3 scoreless innings, but the Sox bats could do little with left-hander Matt Moore, the first 7-0 pitcher in the big leagues this season, and four Rays relievers.
Moore, who set down 12 in a row between Ortiz’s home run and Stephen Drew’s one-out double in the fifth, went six innings, walking two and striking out eight. Fernando Rodney finished off the Sox with his seventh save, striking out the side and launching an imaginary arrow into the heavens.
Boston’s best scoring chance came in the seventh, when Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury drew walks off reliever Jake McGee. Joe Maddon went to his right-handed reliever, Josh Lueke, to turn around switch-hitting Shane Victorino, and the move paid off when Victorino lined out to first baseman Loney.
Former Angels catcher Molina, who went into the game with the majors’ worst average among catchers with at least 70 plate appearances and was hitless in his previous 22 at-bats, had as many hits as the Sox did Tuesday, including a two-run single off his former batterymate in Anaheim, Lackey.