ST. PETERSBURG — Inside their tomblike locker room, Red Sox players spoke in hushed tones about their latest defeat. But their tone spoke volumes about the way they have come to regard their new nemesis in the AL East.
The defending World Series champions lost their third straight game to the Rays on Wednesday night, a 7-6 come-from-behind stunner by the Rays that left Boston with nothing but respect for first-place Tampa Bay.
"They took it to us, three games in a row," said disheartened manager Terry Francona, whose team has lost five straight and is 31/2 games behind the Rays. "We came here to win, and we didn't do a very good job. They don't need me to evaluate them."
But a handful of players did, such as second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who did his best to lift his team out of its tailspin with a home run, a triple and two doubles.
"They pitched better than us, they hit better than us, they hit in the clutch better than us," said Pedroia, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games. "They beat us; that's why we didn't win any games. That's the way baseball is sometimes."
Pedroia singled out the spectacular over-the-shoulder catch that Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton made in the ninth inning on a drive by Kevin Youkilis, holding Youkilis to a sacrifice fly and Mike Lowell at first base. "It if goes over his head and hits the wall, (Lowell) probably has a good chance of scoring and tying the game up," Pedroia said.
To Pedroia, the secret is out about the Rays: "They're a good baseball team. There's no way around it. They pitch. They play great defense. And they have good players."
Reliever Manny Delcarmen echoed the sentiment.
"They've come a long way," he said. "To come from where they were last year is something. That's one of the things that's sparking them right now, and they're really on a roll. They're making things happen. But there's still a lot of baseball left."
Infielder Alex Cora isn't surprised by the Rays anymore.
"This is a good team," he said. "And everybody in the league knows it."