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Boston Red Sox pound Matt Garza, sweep Tampa Bay Rays at Trop

ST. PETERSBURG — The talk this morning is going to be about the standings, about how Wednesday's 11-3 cap on the three-game sweep by Boston has jeopardized the Rays' division lead with the Yankees moving within 31/2 games and the Red Sox creeping back into it at 5½ out.

But the Rays — who still have the majors' best record at 32-15 — should be more concerned about the stat sheet, specifically an offense that has again dwindled and nearly disappeared.

In the three games against Boston's high-quality pitching, the Rays scored just four runs. They had seven hits and were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position the first two nights, then had 10 hits Wednesday but did almost nothing with them, going an almost hard-to-do 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position and stranding 12.

"It's such a cyclical thing, I think, where you either do, and you get hot in those moments, or you don't. And we had been hot and now we're not," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

"The quality of the at-bat, the number of pitches seen, all those things are really high-end. We just failed to do what we've been doing really well this year, and that's get the hit with the runner in scoring position."

"We're just spreading it out too much," Ben Zobrist said. "We need to get more than two hits in an inning. We haven't had a lot of big hits, those doubles with men in scoring position or home runs with a couple guys."

The problems are widespread and the potential solutions sparse.

In the past two weeks, the Rays have already tried changing personnel, dumping DH Pat Burrell and promoting Hank Blalock to share time with Willy Aybar. They've tried reconfiguring their lineup, dropping cold Carlos Peña and colder B.J. Upton and moving rookie catcher John Jaso into the middle of the order. And they've tried giving players time off, with Upton benched Wednesday and again tonight because Maddon felt he was pressing too much.

"There's not a whole lot left (to try), I don't think," Maddon said. "The guys out there, just like they had been doing, they'll get it done again."

If so, it's going to take quite a revival. Peña is 11-for-82 in May and hitting .189 overall, and Upton is not much better at 12-for-his-past-82 and .210. Leadoff man Jason Bartlett is down to .239, and even Evan Longoria, one of their few consistent forces, has cooled off, with just four hits in his past 22 at-bats.

What made it worse Wednesday was that the Rays didn't pitch well, either.

Matt Garza failed to deliver the big start they desperately needed, lasting only five innings while allowing season highs in runs (six) — including two homers to Adrian Beltre (who tied a career high with six RBIs) and one to David Ortiz — and walks (five) and needing 103 pitches to get there due to an unusual lack of fastball command.

"Tonight was really all on me," Garza said.

The sweep left the Rays with their second three-game losing streak, and arguably their first true challenge of the season. And it left the Red Sox, who've won five straight and eight of nine, feeling pretty good about themselves, making amends for the Rays' four-game April sweep in Fenway.

"We know we're good," Boston's Dustin Pedroia said. "We just have to sustain it over 162 games."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Boston Red Sox pound Matt Garza, sweep Tampa Bay Rays at Trop 05/27/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 9:43am]

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