Sox are swept by Price, Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Mistakes are harder to erase for the Red Sox these days. The occasional bobbled ground ball or rough pitching performance cannot be compensated for by a flurry of hits and runs, which was so often the case in May and June.
That margin for error methodically disappeared into the thinnest of lines with every player who landed on the disabled list. Now the Red Sox are on a tightrope, and last night against the Tampa Bay Rays, they tumbled again.
Six Tim Wakefield walks, two errors, and several other slips led to a 6-4 loss and a three-game sweep at the hands of one of their division rivals. That’s four losses in a row for the Sox for the first time since a five-game skid in the dreary days of April.
The third-place Sox are now 4 1/2 games back and have today off.
“It’s coming at the right time,’’ Mike Cameron said. “We need to get ourselves straight.’’
Wakefield (3-7) accepted the blame for the latest loss. He allowed six runs on four hits over 5 2/3 innings. Of the six Rays he walked, four scored. Kevin Cash was charged with a passed ball, and there were three stolen bases against him.
“There’s no excuses, I walked too many guys,’’ Wakefield said. “There were too many guys on base. Whatever adjustments I made didn’t work.’’
Wakefield has usually pitched well in the still air under the dome of Tropicana Field, his knuckleball dancing without wind currents to distract it. In his previous 24 appearances here, he had a 3.12 earned run average.
But the ball rose and fell erratically last night, so much so that manager Terry Francona called its movement “violent.’’
Evan Longoria had a home run against Wakefield in the fourth inning, ending a career-long span of 78 at-bats without one. Carlos Pena added an RBI single in the fifth and Carl Crawford had one in the sixth.
Another run scored when second baseman Bill Hall dropped a feed from Marco Scutaro for what should have been an inning-ending double play in the fifth.
The Red Sox are 5-9 in the games Wakefield has started this season and his ERA is up to 5.22.
As Wakefield tried to gain his control, Rays starter David Price threw his fastball again and again with stunning precision.
The 24-year-old lefthander gave up eight hits but only two runs over 7 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out 10. Of his 111 pitches, 100 were fastballs as he challenged the Sox from the start.
“Early on, it was impressive. It was fastball, fastball, fastball,’’ Francona said. “When I looked up in he fourth inning he had thrown 12 balls. It was very impressive.’’
There was no attempt at deception, only well-located heat. The first five players in the Sox order — Scutaro, Darnell McDonald, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Beltre — were 4 for 20 with nine strikeouts against Price.
“I just wanted to make them beat my best pitch,’’ said Price, who at 12-4 may have earned the right to start the All-Star Game. “That was my mentality tonight.’’
Ortiz had an RBI double and Cameron a solo home run against Price. But that was the extent of the offense as the Rays took a 6-2 lead into the ninth.
So sure was Francona that closer Jonathan Papelbon wouldn’t be needed that he let him pitch the seventh to get some much-needed work.
But the Sox showed the perseverance that has kept them in the race despite all their injuries.
Daniel Nava had a triple off Grant Balfour to start the ninth and scored on Cameron’s sacrifice fly.
Pinch hitter J.D. Drew followed with a single off Randy Choate and McDonald hit an RBI double to left off Matt Garza, a starter who lasted only three innings against the Sox on Monday and was used in place of closer Rafael Soriano, who needed a day off.
“Just keep battling and don’t give in,’’ said McDonald, whose double came on the 11th pitch he saw from Garza. “One thing about this team is that we don’t make it easy on anybody. That’s how we play.’’
Ortiz drew a walk to extend the game and load the bases. But Youkilis, who was 0 for 5, lined to center to end it.
The Sox finished with 11 hits, Cameron going 3 for 3 with two RBIs. McDonald was 3 for 5, continuing his impressive season.
“This was a disappointing three days as far as getting wins,’’ Francona said. “But we ask our guys to try their best. That’s exactly what they’re doing.’’
“We’ll get on the plane, regroup, and keep battling. This is actually kind of a fun group right now. This wasn’t a fun three days, but this is a good group to work with. We’ll figure it out.’’