ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It was going to be a satisfying night for the Red Sox, a refreshing break from the drudgery of a season gone so terribly wrong.
Clay Buchholz had outpitched Tampa Bay ace David Price, leaving a three-run lead in the hands of the bullpen after seven shutout innings.
Two rookies who could be central figures next season, shortstop Jose Iglesias and catcher Ryan Lavarnway, helped carry the offense. Iglesias had three hits, including the first home run of his career. Lavarnway added two hits, one of them an RBI single.
But instead of a joyful plane ride home, there was only more pain. Tampa Bay scored six runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the final three on a home run by B.J Upton, to stun the Sox, 7-4, Thursday night.
“Stuff happens. It’s how our season has been going,” Buchholz said in a tone that indicated he wasn’t all that surprised.
The Sox took a 4-1 lead into the ninth and handed the ball to closer Andrew Bailey, who has pitched well since returning from the disabled list.
He was terrible this time. Singles by Matt Joyce, Jeff Keppinger, and Carlos Pena scored a run. Pinch hitter Stephen Vogt, a rookie who was 0 for 19, walked to load the bases with one out.
Manager Bobby Valentine had two relievers warming up, but stuck with Bailey.
“First time he was in trouble. Got to give him a chance to get out of it, I think,” Valentine said. “Wanted to see what he would do.”
Desmond Jennings swung at the first pitch he saw and singled in two runs. Valentine’s faith was gone at that point and he went to Vicente Padilla.
Upton lined Padilla’s fourth pitch, a belt-high fastball, over the wall in center field for his 24th home run. It was the seventh time the Red Sox have suffered a walkoff loss this season.
“Not numb. It still hurts just as bad,” Valentine said.
Bailey (1-1) took all the blame.
“It’s inexcusable. There’s no other way to describe it,” he said. “I’ve got to get that job done and find a way to get out of that inning . . . I didn’t get ahead of guys and didn’t put guys away. Just didn’t pitch.”
Buchholz left after seven innings and only 94 pitches because of a sore back. With the Sox in the lead, he felt it was better for the bullpen to take over.
“I went up to them and told them, ‘Hey, I’m done. Get somebody else up,’ ” Buchholz said. “It just didn’t happen.”
Buchholz described his back pain as “everyday soreness” and didn’t seem concerned.
The Red Sox started Pedro Ciriaco in center field for the first time in his career. An experiment designed to increase his versatility ended in failure after three innings.
Evan Longoria hit a routine fly to right-center to start the bottom of the second inning. Ciriaco initially called for the ball, then let up and it fell in for a double. Daniel Nava, who was starting for only the second time in his career in right field, appeared to distract Ciriaco.
Buchholz worked around the mistake.
In the third inning, Buchholz got two quick outs before Upton hit a fly to center field. Ciriaco started back then lost the ball in the off-white roof of Tropicana Field. The ball landed about 5 feet in front of him for another gift double.
Buchholz got Ben Zobrist to pop out to end the inning. In a gesture befitting his professionalism, Buchholz waited on the field to give Ciriaco an encouraging pat on the back as they entered the dugout.
Jacoby Ellsbury replaced Ciriaco when the Red Sox took the field in the fourth inning.
A middle infielder for most of his career, Ciriaco has played well at third base in place of the injured Will Middlebrooks. He had 17 innings in the outfield before Thursday, four in center.
“Experiment on hold,” Valentine said.
Buchholz allowed only two other hits. The Rays never really came close to scoring against him.
Price had a two-hit shutout going after five innings. The Red Sox scored two runs in the sixth as they sent eight batters to the plate.
Iglesias started it with a single to left field. He took second on a wild pitch and scored on a two-out double to the gap in left by Cody Ross.
Lavarnway, who was batting cleanup, singled to center to drive in Ross.
Price threw 27 pitches in the inning. The runs were the first he allowed at home in a span of 29⅓ innings dating to a start against the Sox on July 14.
Mauro Gomez, another rookie, had an RBI triple in the seventh inning. Iglesias then cracked a line drive well over the wall in left off J.P. Howell in the ninth.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Iglesias said. “I put the team in a good position.”
Iglesias was 3 for 4. He had been 2 for 35 in his previous 15 games. Confidence, he said, was not a problem.
“I’m going to stay positive no matter what, every single day, and try and get better,” he said. “Every day is a new day.”
On this day, Iglesias couldn’t even celebrate his success.
“A lot of good things happened in that game to end on a sour note,” Valentine said.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.