The Red Sox may have entered this two-game series with Tampa Bay the more banged-up team, with a third starting position player - catcher Victor Martinez - landing on the disabled list Tuesday.
But it was the Rays who continued to sputter in an 8-5 loss to Boston at Fenway Park.
Tampa Bay has lost nine of its past 12 games and remained three games back in third place in the American League East thanks to a Yankees loss to the Mariners. However, with four of the next eight games against the Red Sox, and four more against the tough Twins, things won't get easier for the Rays.
The offense, still in a puzzling funk, didn't show life until late in the game. By then, the Red Sox had already build a healthy lead, partly thanks to a tipping point in the fifth.
Rays right-hander James Shields had pitched four scoreless innings, working his way out of a two-on, two-out jam in the fourth. But in the fifth, Shields wasn't so lucky.
With two on and one out, Shields struck out Daniel Nava, bringing David Ortiz to the plate and manager Joe Maddon to the mound. With an open base and Ortiz entering the at-bat 11-for-29 with two homers against Shields, they could have walked him to face Kevin Youkilis, who was 3-for-30 lifetime against Shields.
Maddon decided to face Ortiz, who ripped the first pitch into the rightfield seats for a three-run homer, leading a frustrated Shields to slap his hand on the mound. He ended up striking out Youkilis to end the inning.
Maddon said after talking with Shields, it was his decision to pitch to Ortiz.
"Don't blame anybody but me," Maddon said.
Maddon said it was a matter of location: "He did not want to throw that pitch where he did, I can promise you that."
Things didn't get better in the sixth as Shields hit leadoff batter J.D. Drew and gave up back-to-back singles to Adrian Beltre and Jason Varitek to make it 4-0 before getting relieved by Dan Wheeler. Shields (6-8) has lost seven consecutive starts, a career worst, and has a 7.34 ERA over that stretch.
Wheeler and Lance Cormier combined to squeeze out of that inning while allowing only one run, but that was more than enough against the Rays anemic offense.
Tampa Bay (44-32) once again struggled with runners in scoring position. Carl Crawford, back in the lineup for the first time since Thursday due to a sore shoulder, gave the Rays a spark, coming through with four hits. He singled in the first and doubled in the third but was stranded both times, at third in the third when Carlos Pena popped out.
They got on the board in the seventh when Evan Longoria hit an RBI single to left. But on the same play, Crawford got caught straying too far off second base, getting caught in a rundown to end the inning.
The Rays scored in the eighth on Willy Aybar's two-run homer and got a triple out of B.J. Upton, who entered as a pinch-hitter and hustled his way around the bases. But after the Rays scored two more in the ninth, the Red Sox brought in closer Jonathan Papelbon for the final out.
With the loss, Tampa Bay continued its free fall. Since the Rays started the season 32-12, and built a six-game lead over the Yankees, they've gone 12-20.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.