ST. PETERSBURG — Shane McClanahan had trouble Thursday from the start of the first inning. And the second. And the fifth.
Allowing the leadoff batters to reach base in each of those innings — one on a single, two on walks — led to all of Boston’s runs. It proved to be too much for the Rays to overcome as their majors-leading offense was shut down again in a second straight loss to the Red Sox, 4-0.
“He just wasn’t able to get the lead out of the inning, and that sets you up for a little bit more success,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Boston had a good approach; they got big hits off of him with guys on base, but it did feel like there was a lot of traffic out there for him.”
In losing back-to-back games for the first time in nearly three weeks, the Rays saw their American League-best record drop to 84-50 and their East division lead over the Yankees cut to 6½ games.
There was another small crowd at Tropicana Field for what seemed like a big series, the announced 7,923 making the total for the four games just 29,352.
Prized rookie shortstop Wander Franco left the game after drawing a walk in the seventh — extending his on-base streak to 33 games. The team called it a headache but acknowledged concern after the game about concussion-like symptoms.
McClanahan didn’t pitch all that badly in taking his first loss after a 5-0, 2.76 August. All eight hits he gave up were singles, he struck out a career-high-matching eight, and he got 19 swing-and-misses over his five innings, throwing 88 pitches.
“It’s a frustrating night, because it’s not like I got tagged for home runs or extra-base hits,” McClanahan said. “It’s just one of those nights where it didn’t go my way. Kudos to them. It’s good hitting team. But I’d like to think sometimes that eight singles isn’t going to get the job done, but I’ve got to do a better job executing pitches.”
That was in part because of what happened after the leadoff men reached.
The single by ex-Ray Hunter Renfroe to start the game led to a run when the Sox rapped two more after two were out.
A leadoff walk in the second to No. 7 hitter Danny Santana led to another when Renfroe singled again with two outs.
And a walk to No. 9 hitter Jonathan Arauz, on 11 pitches after five straight foul balls, led to two runs, with one-out singles by Kyle Schwarber and J.D. Martinez, and another two-out hit by Bobby Dalbec.
“Some nights those balls find defenders, and some nights those balls find the turf for base hits or whatever,” McClanahan said. “But I need to do a better job of executing pitches, especially ones that are 0-2 and early in the count, 0-0.”
Cash said the walks to the bottom-of-the-order hitters were most damning.
“That’s what sticks out,” he said. “The guys Shane is totally equipped to go right after and do it on fewer pitches.”
The Rays hitters didn’t provide any help, managing four singles over six innings against lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who stymied them with a fastball/changeup combination, and one off reliever Garrett Richards.
They got only one runner to second base, when Yandy Diaz followed Franco’s walk with a single, ending Rodriguez’s night, but pinch-runner Joey Wendle got no further as the Rays were shut out for the sixth time.
That, after the team averaging a majors-leading 5.35 runs per game scored only two on Wednesday and is hitless in its last 19 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
“Our offense, as good as it’s been, you’re going to run into a couple ballgames where it can go quiet,” Cash said, “and it feels like the last two nights that’s kind of what’s taken place.”
So far, it hasn’t been much of a September to remember.
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