ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays, a team built on pitching, defense and timely hitting, decidedly will be in need of late-inning heroics to pull out narrow victories this season.
However, Tampa Bay’s search for success in closely contested games continues after Boston’s 4-3 win in 11 innings Sunday.
It’s still early, but the Rays find themselves 0-4 in one-run games — the past two to the Red Sox — and 0-3 in extra-inning games.
More troubling, Boston extended Tampa Bay’s losing streak to four games before 18,740 at Tropicana Field.
The Rays (14-8) are left with a big question:
Does keeping it close stand as a positive, or does the inability to yield clutch plays represent a troubling trend that could haunt them throughout the year?
“It’s hard to point out the positives because we’re here to win ball games, and we haven’t done that the last four days,” centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “Today was another tough one, but they got the big hit. Once again, that’s kind of been the story line of these last four days. When we’ve had our opportunities, we’re just not capitalizing in big moments.”
The Red Sox did. They completely manufactured the winning run, parlaying a single, a walk, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly to take the lead in the 11th, but that’s what great teams do: find a way. Catcher Christian Vazquez provided the winning RBI with a sacrifice fly that brought home Rafael Devers from third.
Boston’s late-game effort overshadowed bounce-back efforts from three Rays who have endured recent struggles: Tommy Pham, Diego Castillo and Daniel Robertson.
Pham took an eraser to memories of Saturday’s ninth-inning baserunning error that ended a comeback bid by driving a Matt Barnes pitch over the right-centerfield wall in the eighth, tying the score. But the Rays still needed more heroics.
They got it from Castillo, who shut down the Red Sox in the ninth and 10th, striking out five of the eight batters he faced. The performance came after he took losses in both of his past two outings, including back-to-back homers Friday in Boston’s 6-4 victory.
Robertson, who entered the game 2-for-27, staked the Rays to an early lead with an RBI double in the third.
In the end, however, the Rays could not complete the comeback, leaving lingering questions about their hot start to the season, as well as manager Kevin Cash’s decision to pull starter Tyler Glasnow with one out, one on and a 2-1 lead in the sixth after only 76 pitches.
The Rays’ beleaguered bullpen — they brought up extra arms from Triple-A Durham the past three days to help — seemingly increased the demand for Glasnow to go deep into the game. He appeared capable, coming in with a 4-0 record and an AL-leading 1.13 ERA.
And while Glasnow might not have been as sharp Sunday — walking three after issuing the same number through 24 innings to start the season — the hard-throwing right-hander held his own, other than giving up a solo homer to Mitch Moreland.
Glasnow limited the Red Sox to one run through 5⅓ innings. Cash, however, turned to the bullpen after Mookie Betts reached on a two-strike single.
“He had thrown the ball well,” Cash said. “It was really a tough decision on my end. Went ahead and thought to get aggressive right there. We had a lead. We had a chance to get to our best matchups going forward, and it just didn’t work.”
It didn’t work at all. The hope was that Kolarek would induce Moreland into an inning-ending double play. But Red Sox manager Alex Cora lifted Moreland for Steve Pearce, who was walked by Kolarek. And after reliever Chaz Roe walked J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts hit a two-run single to erase Tampa Bay’s 2-1 advantage.
Glasnow could only pull his jersey over his intense gaze as he looked on from the dugout.
Cash said he understood his pitcher’s frustration. To his credit, Glasnow said after the game that his disappointment came only from the moment and he continues to believe in Cash’s calls.
“We have such a good bullpen, I respect any decision Cash makes,” Glasnow said. “Those guys have gone out and closed the door for me multiple times. That’s kind of how baseball is."
But the Rays — still the AL East leaders, 2½ ahead of the Yankees — won’t be able to hide their disappointment if they don’t start winning the close games. It’s a prerequisite of their strategic style of play.