BOSTON — A fourth straight loss, this one 6-4 to Boston, was disappointing enough for the Rays on Sunday, especially since they contributed to their own demise with mistakes on the mound and at the plate.
But they came out of the game with a potentially more disturbing thought, that prized rookie left-hander Matt Moore might be tipping his pitches.
Certainly, the Red Sox hitters, led by David Ortiz, have been hot all weekend, putting up 31 runs in the three games. But in acknowledging how "locked-in" they were, Rays manager Joe Maddon mentioned, open-endedly, that "it's like they know what's coming almost." He noted how "they're on everything right now," no matter what type of pitch it was, and how they were "spitting on" — taking — certain borderline pitches.
What raised the specific pitch-tipping concerns about Moore were the aggressive swings the Red Sox were taking, particularly unexpected given their limited previous exposure to him.
"A couple of those balls we felt like they might've had something on him because they took some pretty comfortable passes for him," Rays catcher Chris Gimenez said.
"For him, really, them not seeing him that much, I don't know what really has been said about him or what the book is, but I haven't seen too many swings off him like that. We don't know if they do or not, but (it's) something we're going to have to keep in the back of our heads."
By the fifth inning, there was enough suspicion in the Rays dugout that pitching coach Jim Hickey huddled with Moore and Gimenez to assess the situation.
"We were trying to think of anything that he might be doing to tip his pitches, and we were talking about he might be tapping his glove on his fastball or something like that," Gimenez said. "I didn't see that, but Hick did."
There were other possibilities: that Gimenez, in his first game since being called up from Triple A, was giving something away by setting up too soon, or that the Sox hitters were peeking in or somehow stealing signs. "All possibilities, I guess," Gimenez said.
After the game, Hickey said their concerns were alleviated because video showed it was more a matter of bad location on Moore's pitches than anything else.
And Moore said he was confident there was no issue with tipping off the hitter — "I don't think so at all" — and had not been in the past. "Not that I've been told," he said. "Maybe years ago when I was in rookie ball or something like that. But not as far as I can remember."
But it is not unusual for young pitchers to face these issues once they get to the big leagues, given the extensive scouting and breakdowns done through video and computer work, as well as experienced personnel in the opposing dugouts. The Rays had a similar problem last season with Alex Cobb tipping his pitches in a game against the Angels by how he held his glove.
Overall Moore, who lost for the first time in the big leagues (six runs, eight hits, 6? innings, career-high 109 pitches), was frustrated that he couldn't keep the Rays closer after they battled back from a 4-0 deficit to tie it at 4. He allowed a run in the sixth on a double by Ortiz (his seventh consecutive hit) then a home run to Mike Aviles leading off the seventh.
"I didn't do a very good job of keeping us right there," he said. "They hit a few mistakes, they hit a few good pitches."
The bigger concern is if they hit a few pitches they knew were coming.
By the numbers
26 Runs allowed by Rays in nine games at Fenway last year.
31 Runs allowed by Rays in first three games at Fenway this year.
2 Rays losses in nine games at Fenway last year.
3 Rays losses in three games at Fenway this year.
4 Losses in a row is longest skid since dropping six to start last season.
4-5 Record marks the first time the Rays have been under .500 since 10-11 on April 23, 2011.