BOSTON — Bad first innings are the biggest reason Chris Archer went from being an All-Star at this time last year to the majors' biggest loser.
That was certainly the issue yet again Friday, as another messy opening frame set the Rays on the path to their franchise-worst 20th loss in 23 games, this one 6-5 to the Red Sox.
Saddled with a 4-12, 4.66 record, Archer now says it will be his first priority to correct.
"There needs to be some action,'' Archer said. "Not just speculating or trying to figure it out. It needs to be figured out. And I plan on doing that after the break.''
The Rays should have a long to-do list as they dropped to 34-52, the 18 games under .500 matching the low point of the Rays era that started in 2008.
"It's getting old saying that, but we are frustrated,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "Wins are very tough to come by.''
Allowing two runs and throwing 29 pitches in the first inning was obviously a bad start for Archer.
"For sure, without question, there are definitely other things that I can do better, but being more efficient in the first inning, not putting the team behind the 8-ball, not only with the score but with the amount of pitches I've thrown,'' he said.
But there was more.
Twice the Rays battled back to tie the score, and twice he allowed the Sox to retake the lead.
"You want to go out there and have shutdown innings after we score,'' he said. "It's very tough, to answer the question. I'm typically better than that. I'm typically better than what I've shown a lot of starts this year.''
And his lack of strike-throwing continues to be a problem. He threw first-pitch strikes to only nine of 26 batters, with several, Cash said, "uncontested" pitches, allowing the hitter to immediately have an advantage in the at-bat. Overall, Archer lasted only six innings, having thrown 116 pitches (only 68 strikes) to get those 18 outs.
"It seemed liked he was just falling behind,'' Cash said.
Archer wasn't the only guilty party, as catcher Hank Conger allowed four stolen bases, three of which led to runs. "It's on me,'' Conger said.
On the plus side, Evan Longoria had a four-hit night, including his 19th homer, in the ninth inning to get the Rays within a run.
First innings have been vexing for Archer, who has a 9.95 ERA in the opening frame and 3.56 after. And he had trouble again, starting with three consecutive balls and walking leadoff man Mookie Betts, who promptly stole second, then allowing a single to Dustin Pedroia and another to Xander Bogaerts, which led to one run. Another walk, with one out, and a sac fly made it 2-0 before the Rays caught Bogaerts off third to end the inning.
Why is that such a problem?
"I wish I had a better explanation for it, I don't,'' Cash said. "I don't think anybody really does. "
The Rays battled back to tie it.
Corey Dickerson's hustle on a two-out bloop and a single by RBI machine Nick Franklin got them one. A homer by Logan Forsythe that cleared the Green Monster and the signs above it another.
But Archer allowed the Sox to retake the lead in the fourth. David Ortiz led off with a homer, the 21st of his farewell season, then two two-out singles and a stolen base produced another.
The Rays tied it again with two in the fifth. Franklin singled, stole second, went to third on a groundout and scored on a sac fly. Longoria capped a 10-pitch at-bat with an RBI single.