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Tampa Bay Rays blow early lead, lose 11-5 to Boston Red Sox in finale of season series

BOSTON — Gathered in front of the big-screen TV in the cramped Fenway Park visitors clubhouse Wednesday afternoon, the Rays hardly concealed their displeasure watching the Yankees rally from behind for another walkoff win.

"We weren't too happy about it," pitcher James Shields said.

And their day only got worse from there, ending in an ugly 11-5 loss to the Red Sox that sent them staggering into today's off day in Toronto having dropped two of three in the first two stops of the road trip.

Matt Garza, who for the last month had looked like a sturdy second to David Price as starters the Rays could count most on, instead became the latest to raise questions, if not concerns, as their starter has failed to last more than five innings in each of the four losses.

And if it wasn't bad enough that he blew a 4-0 second-inning lead against a team he relishes beating, it was how bad he looked in doing so.

He allowed four home runs (in a 17-batter span) while striking out only one, throwing 97 pitches over his final 3? innings. His location was so off manager Joe Maddon was openly perplexed. And his mention of "September soreness" couldn't have made anyone feel any better, even if he said later it was normal.

"He kept hitting bad spots, and they kept hitting the ball out of the ballpark," Maddon said. "They wore him out."

Garza, who'd allowed one or no runs in his past four starts and no more than four since late July, played it off as one of those nights.

"They hit everything," Garza said. "Some days you burn, some days you get burned. And today was the day I got burned."

But that didn't dull the shock in the Rays clubhouse, especially after B.J. Upton's third homer in his past four games and 16th overall put them ahead 4-0.

"It did surprise me," Maddon said. "(Garza) looked fine. He's been rested. He hasn't been overworked. A game like this that he normally really rises to the occasion, kind of surprised me."

"You definitely don't see that coming," Upton said.

With the loss, the Rays (84-55) are back to 2½ games out of first place in the American League East, with 23 games to play, including seven with the Yankees in an 11-day span starting Monday at the Trop. And, it's still worth noting, their wild-card lead was cut to 6½ over the Red Sox, who for all the talk about "surrendering" by switching from ace Clay Buchholz to knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on Wednesday didn't look out of it.

Part of the Rays problem was not scoring again after Upton's homer in the second, allowing the Red Sox to regain the momentum. "We kind of went dead for the rest of the game," Upton said.

And part was a bad night by the bullpen, as Chad Qualls (6.57 ERA, 21 baserunners in 12? innings) gave up a couple more big hits, and Randy Choate did, and Grant Balfour did.

But the biggest problem was the one they didn't expect to have: Garza failing to put the game away.

After a 1-2-3 10-pitch first inning, he couldn't get anything right, allowing a two-run homer to Adrian Beltre in the second, solo shots to Marco Scutaro and David Ortiz in the third and another to Victor Martinez before leaving in the fifth.

"Really disappointing," Garza said. "They're whaling on everything I threw. I didn't have an answer. It was one of those games where you just wash (it away). I had a good run, good solid outings the last six, seven of them. You just hope this day doesn't come when it's a game you needed the most."

You hope.

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

Red Sox 11

Rays 5

Tampa Bay Rays blow early lead, lose 11-5 to Boston Red Sox in finale of season series 09/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 9:20am]

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