BOSTON — Playing the Red Sox, and on national TV, these Rays can't avoid being compared with last year's team. But the way Sunday night's 4-3 loss turned out showed why they are not yet worthy of the comparison.
These Rays played some shaky defense that led to two Boston runs. They didn't provide effective relief as the Sox scored the go-ahead run in the eighth. And they couldn't come up with a clutch hit at the end, failing to tie after getting a runner to third with no outs in the ninth, as pinch-hitter Carlos Peña, B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford struck out swinging against Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.
"There's so many different ways we should have won that game tonight, and we did not," manager Joe Maddon said. "It was an entertaining game that we should have won. We made too many mistakes to win that game."
As a result they didn't, dropping to 15-18, missing a chance for a third straight series win at Fenway Park, and heading to Baltimore unhappy about it.
"Just one of those heartbreakers where you have your shot. We had our shot," Rays starter Matt Garza said. "They just outexecuted us, that's all it is, pitchingwise and fieldingwise. And they had those clutch (at-bats)."
The biggest came in the eighth, after a seven-inning duel between Garza and Boston starter Josh Beckett.
David Ortiz got the first, a left-on-left double off Brian Shouse. Dan Wheeler came on, first threw a wild pitch — or at least a slider that catcher Dioner Navarro didn't do a good job of blocking and Maddon said "probably should have been stopped" — that allowed Ortiz to go to third, then grooved a fastball that Jason Bay knocked off the wall to score the run.
"Any time you lose a game like that it's really not going to sit well,'' Wheeler said. "Especially when you have an off-day coming up and you can't get out there for another couple days. It's never easy.''
The Rays had what looked like a prime chance to get back as a walk by Akinori Iwamura, an errant pickoff throw and a single by Jason Bartlett put the tying run on third, but they wasted it.
Boston manager Terry Francona praised Papelbon for stepping up, saying "Pap really turned into Pap." But Maddon said the Rays helped: "We just swung at pitches out of the strike zone."
The game ended a stretch of nine games in 11 days against the Red Sox and Yankees during which the Rays went 6-3.
The Rays took a 1-0 lead when Crawford beat out a grounder for an infield hit, then scored from first on Pat Burrell's single. But they gave it back with a sloppy play in the second by Willy Aybar, who started in Peña's place at first.
With Bay on third and the infield in, Aybar first bobbled J.D. Drew's grounder, then threw wide of the plate.
Another sloppy play helped the Sox expand their lead to 3-1 in the fourth. Back-to-back doubles by Jeff Bailey and Jason Varitek got them one run, then the Rays gave them another when a popup to shallow right dropped behind second baseman Iwamura, who appeared to be in position until the last moment, and had the play to himself as rightfielder Ben Zobrist never called for it.
"I might have been confused a little bit, and I chased too much to the ball," Iwamura said.
Maddon acknowledged the mistakes on both plays. "The drawn-in infield where we couldn't get the ball out of the glove, and the popup that fell should not have happened obviously.''
The night was not without some accomplishment.
Crawford singled in Upton in the fifth to tie Aubrey Huff's franchise record of 449 RBIs. He already was the Rays' all-time leader in games, hits, at-bats, stolen bases and triples.
Then he stole second which extended his season-starting streak to 22 steals, and 24 going back to last season, matching Pittsburgh's Nate McLouth for the longest active streak in the majors.
The Red Sox, already playing without Kevin Youkilis, lost reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia, who left after three innings with a strained right groin.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]