ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — In the evolving American League East, the Rays are one of the class teams.
They have one of the best managers in the game in Joe Maddon, a versatile lineup, and a deep pitching staff led by homegrown, dominant starters. For the patchwork Red Sox to beat them, mistakes can’t be made.
(Yes, it has come to that. The team with the $64 million payroll and 17 fans is envied and the team with the $173 million payroll and boundless tradition is a wreck.)
Two silly mistakes did the Red Sox in Wednesday night in a 2-1 loss. With runners on first and third and two outs in the second inning, Clay Buchholz decided to get cute with the runners instead of striking out Jose Molina, a .197 hitter.
Buchholz buckled his knee before making a pickoff move. He was called for a balk and a run scored.
“I was going to go third to first. Came up and the back cleat sort of got caught and then I tried to spin around,” Buchholz said.
The third-to-first move is so ineffective that Major League Baseball is considering banning it. With a weak hitter at the plate, it makes even less sense.
“I don’t get it. Molina is at the plate,” said Bobby Valentine, who agreed it was a balk. “I don’t know.”
Molina, of course, struck out to end the inning.
It was the second time in nine games that the Red Sox allowed a run because of a balk, Daniel Bard having balked in a run against Kansas City May 8.
Franklin Morales had two balks later in the game. The Sox have six on the season. Five have come in two games. Here’s a crazy idea, stop doing it.
In the sixth inning, Buchholz put runners on the corners with no outs. Valentine, burned before by leaving starters in too long, went to Andrew Miller.
He did his job, getting Luke Scott to swing at a high fastball and pop the ball up to shallow right field. The runner at third, Matt Joyce, wouldn’t dare try to score.
But right fielder Cody Ross stumbled, then he turned, and when he finally caught the ball, he was facing center field. Joyce tagged up, and by the time Ross spun back around and threw the ball, the run had scored
It proved to be the winning run.
Ross ran in, looked to see where second baseman Dustin Pedroia was, and when he tried to find the ball again, it was lost against the dingy off-white dome covering Tropicana Field. By the time Ross found the ball again, he was out of position.
“I tried to break my stride down and kind of tripped over myself and had to reach back and grab it,” Ross said. “Just a lot of stuff going on in that play. It was awful. It ended up costing us the game.
“That’s a play that has to be made. No excuses. It ended up being a big play and I feel terrible about it obviously.”
Jeremy Hellickson (4-0) and three relievers made the two runs stand up. When Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, and Adrian Gonzalez go 1 for 11, the Sox aren’t going to score much.
Gonzalez has gone 103 at-bats without hitting a home run. His last came on Apri 17.
A few notes:
• The game was delayed in the eighth inning when Tampa Bay’s Will Rhymes passed out while at first base after being hit by a pitch from Morales. First base coach George Hendrick caught Rhymes and lowered him to the turf.
Rhymes was attended to by medical personnel and eventually got up and was taken off the field in a cart. X-rays were negative and Tampa Bay said he was overcome by an adrenaline rush.
“When I got to first I started to get really dizzy and nauseous,” Rhymes said. “That’s when I started walking it off. Apparently I didn’t get very far.”
Said Valentine: “My heart stopped.”
Morales said he planned to call Rhymes to check on him and was apologetic for hitting him with the pitch.
• Will Middlebrooks is 6 of his last 32 (.188) with 12 strikeouts and is down to .278. The scouting reports are starting to catch up with him a bit, as usually happens. He also made another mistake in the field, picking up a bunt that looked like it would roll foul.
Kevin Youkilis was 1 for 2 with a walk and a double for Pawtucket Wednesday night. He will get a day off Thursday and play third base Friday. Don’t be surprised to see him this weekend in Philadelphia.
• The Sox are 4-9 against division foes. They’ve also lost 25 of their last 37 games at the Trop. Long gone are the days of showing up here, filling the place with their fans, and cuffing around the Rays for a few days.
• Daniel Nava has seven RBIs in seven games and has reached base in 18 of 28 plate appearances.