Even with advance scouting reports and inside information from Akinori Iwamura, the Devil Rays were left dazed and confused in their first encounter Tuesday with Boston pitching sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka. They knew plenty about Julio Lugo, who was their shortstop most of the past four years, but that didn't help them, either.
Matsuzaka baffled them from the mound with a vast repertoire and unexpected assortment of off-speed pitches, while Lugo snapped a nearly three-week 0-fer with a key two-run single as the Rays opened the second half of their season the way they finished the first, with a loss.
This one was 4-1, making it nine straight - their longest skid since a nine-gamer last season - and 16 in their past 20, as they tumbled to an American League worst 33-49 record.
Scott Kazmir once again kept the Rays in the game while pitching himself out of it (113 pitches in six innings), and the offense - despite a "mild shakeup" with Carl Crawford moving to the No. 2 slot - sputtered again, shut out until Carlos Pena's 19th homer in the ninth.
"We're going through a rut right now and we just have to get out of it," Kazmir said. "It's frustrating for the whole team."
Matsuzaka - the $100-million wonder whose starts have become events in Boston - was a big part of it, allowing only four hits over eight innings while striking out nine.
"I don't think he had anything overpowering, such as like a closer's fastball, or anything really filthy, like a real dirty split-finger, but with his five, six, seven, eight pitches, whatever he's got (he just) kept us off balance," outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "You can't go up there sitting on a pitch because he's got so many, and so many for strikes."
"You go up there," Pena said, "and all of a sudden you're 0-2 and you haven't seen a pitch to hit yet."
What caught the Rays off-guard, including Iwamura, who faced him three times in Japan (2-for-8, one homer), was the heavy dosage of breaking balls.
"In my knowledge," Iwamura said through translator Maya Koyanagi, " I didn't have that much off-speed experience with him."
Matsuzaka said that was exactly his plan: "He must have thought I threw a lot more breaking balls than I did in Japan. I know I'm going to see him a lot of times, I know what pitches he hits well, and I succeeded in not throwing them."
Iwamura doubled in the sixth but struck out three times, twice looking, and made a rare show of emotion in the first, waving his hand at umpire Paul Nauert's seemingly expanded strike zone.
"The plate umpire took everything away from us; that's the only thing I can tell you," Iwamura said.
Kazmir was excited that he regained command of his splitter but frustrated by his lapse in control when he walked the bases loaded in the second. He gave up one run on what should have been a double-play grounder that Ty Wigginton booted, then with two outs hung a slider that Lugo greeted warmly with a two-run single.
That snapped an 0-for-33 streak that stretched to June 14 for Lugo, who, after being traded to the Dodgers last July, has struggled since signing a four-year, $36-million deal with the Sox. When he singled in the seventh (he was picked off), it was his first multihit game since May 28, and his postgame was familiar.
"That's all I needed was to see my boys," Lugo said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8801. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.
Streaking ... the bad way
The Rays' nine-game losing streak is among their longest ever. A closer look:
Games Year Dates
15 2002 4/25 - 5/0
12 2004 8/27 - 9/10
10 2005 6/28 - 7/8
10 2000 9/9 - 9/20
9 2006 9/10 - 9/19
9 2007 6/25 - ???