ST. PETERSBURG — The mistakes Charlie Morton made early in the game that left the Rays down five runs they were able to make up for.
The one Tommy Pham made that ended the game, that one may haunt the Rays for a while.
With another rally building in the ninth, Pham was caught too far off first base and picked off to seal a frustrating 6-5 loss to the Red Sox.
“All I’m going to say is I (screwed) up, and that’s it,’’ Pham said. “I have nothing else to say. I messed up. … There’s no other need to explain. ''
The Sox deserve some credit in scouting and setting the trap, catcher Christian Vazquez, saying the coaches "told me to watch for it,” noting where Pham was and flashing a sign to first baseman Steve Pearce to be ready for a pickoff throw.
“Good job by Christian looking around and seeing what’s going on,’’ Sox manager Alex Cora said. “That was a great play.’’
So after Daniel Robertson led off the ninth with a single, and after Pham drilled a two-out single to bring Willy Adames up with a chance to complete what would have been a remarkable comeback from an early 5-0 deficit, the Rays broke down.
“Sure it was frustrating,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “It was a really well-executed play on their part. I guess that’s probably the best I can say. They made a good play.’’
There was plenty of frustration on what ended up a night of loss for the Rays, now 14-7.
They lost their first series after winning the first six of the season. They lost three straight for the first time since Aug. 3-5. They lost some of the margin, real and perceived, created by their fast start and the Red Sox’s struggles.
And they lost first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who left the game due to calf tightness shortly after legging out one of their team-record four triples, with the hope he won’t need more than a day or two.
With their bullpen “taxed” – Cash’s word – after three straight days of using openers and multi-inning relievers, the Rays were counting a big outing from veteran starter Charlie Morton.
Instead he put them in a big hole, allowing five runs to the Red Sox in a messy second inning that included a leadoff single, two walks and a hit batter and then Andrew Benintendi’s grand slam.
“Just fell behind a few guys,’’ said Morton, who didn’t give up anything else in working six innings. “I wouldn’t say it was a poorly executed pitch to Benintendi, I would just say it was the wrong pitch.’’
There was frustration when it landed, too, as the Rays felt a fan, in their colors, reached over the low railing atop the fence to catch it and interfered, but the umps called it a home run, and a replay review didn’t change it.
“It looked like he reached over,’’ centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “I don’t think they had a good camera angle. I always say I hate when guys sit here and always ask for a replay when the play’s not even close, but for me right there – maybe my eyes were wrong – it really looked like the fan caught that hanging out over. … It’s unfortunate because I really do think it might have hit off the top of the fence.’’
Down 5-0, the Rays slowly, and impressively, came back.
An Avisail Garcia homer in the second got them one run. Fourth-inning triples by Choi and Brandon Lowe another. They got two in the seventh keyed by triples by Kiermaier and Austin Meadows.
And they finally got even in the eighth when Yandy Diaz, who couldn’t hit homers with Cleveland, hit his fifth for the Rays, an opposite field shot.
But there was more frustration to come.
Jose Alvarado, who hadn’t given up a run in his first 10 outings, proved fallible in the ninth.
Jackie Bradley Jr. led off with a single, and after a failed bunt, Sox rookie Michael Chavis made a smashing major-league debut, driving a ball over Kiermaier’s head for a double. ”What a way to start your big-league career,’’ Cora said. "That ball was hammered.'' Enough that a Benintendi sac fly made it 6-5.
The Rays weren’t quite done, with a chance for absolution for several earlier misdeeds.
Robertson singled off Ryan Brasier, and when Pham singled with two outs, and the Trop was rocking with another noisy split allegiance crowd of 22,940. It seemed like that had a chance for a happy ending.
“It just shows you our team,’’ Pham said. “We have a whole bunch of grinders in here. We’re not going to give up without a fight.’’
But then Pham made the mistake that ended that fight. “There were some key situations for me specifically and I didn’t come through (Saturday),’’ Pham said. “I messed up all around – hitting and on the bases today. So I’ll make up for it.”
He has a couple mistakes to cover. Thursday, he made a big one, getting caught trying to steal third, perhaps unneccesarily, in the ninth of a tie game, and then Friday he was caught stealing second in the seventh with the score again tied.
"Tommy is going to be fine. He’s a big part,'' Cash said. "It’s kind of come in bunches right here lately. But we’ll all work through that with him.''
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.