By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
BOSTON It was a broken-bat single. But on this night it broke the proverbial back of the Red Sox.
With two outs and runners on first and second, the Rays B.J. Upton shattered his bat on a 1-and-0 fastball from Kyle Weiland. The ball and bat reached Marco Scutaro simultaneously, sending the Sox shortstop in self-preservation mode. Scutaro hopped out of the way, as both the bat and ball skittered through his legs.
At first I didnt see the bat at all, Scutaro said. Was just focusing on the ball and I kind of saw the bat at the last moment. It was bat-ball. So I just jumped. I couldnt do anything else about it.
Rather than ending the inning with an infield groundout, the play scored a run, putting the Rays up 1-0, and set the stage for Evan Longoria to drive his 27th home run of the season into the Sox bullpen for three more runs and a 4-0 lead.
The Sox, meanwhile, could do little with Rays' starter Jeremy Hellickson, who held them to one run on three hits and four walks (one intentional) over 5 13 innings. The Sox lost 9-2 in the opener of their four-game set with the Rays at Fenway Park.
Hellickson, earned the win, improving to 13-10 with a 2.91 ERA. He is now 2-1 in five games, four starts, against the Sox this season, becoming just the third rookie since 1976 to beat the Sox twice in a season at Fenway.
Weiland took the loss, falling to 0-2 with a 7.58 ERA. He went three innings the shortest outing of his four-start big league career giving up four runs on three hits and two walks with one strikeout.
If ever there was a time for Josh Beckett to wear his ace-of-the-staff mantel, it is Friday night. The Red Sox are 1-7 in their last eight games, and have lost 9 of their last 11. Their lead over the Rays in the wild card race is down to three games. And, with the Yankees idle, the Sox lost a half-game, falling to 4 12 back of the American League East leaders.
The Sox are 5-10 against the Rays this season, including 1-5 at Fenway, and are sliding along on a franchise-worst six-game losing streak to the Rays. In those games, the Rays have outscored the Sox 42-15. In the last four games at Fenway, the Sox have managed just 15 hits, including six last night.
Rays pitchers have held Sox batters to a .178 average this season. Since 1946, the lowest the Sox have batted against an opponent in a season with a minimum of 10 games was .204 against the Orioles in 1966. At Fenway, the Rays have held the Sox to just a .162 mark (30-for-185). Since 1946, the lowest the Sox have hit against an opponent at Fenway is .187 against the A's in 1973.
Enter Beckett. He hasnt pitched since getting leaving his last start, Sept. 5 in Toronto after 3 23 innings with a sprained ankle. Of his 27 outings, 19 are quality starts. But his last came three starts ago, on Aug. 24 in Texas. Beckett (12-5, 2.49 ERA) is the Sox best hope to put a stop to their free-fall.
Yeah, itll be nice to see him out there healthy, said manager Terry Francona. Nice to see him out there attacking the strike zone and being the Josh weve come to rely on. They like their guy, too, but that gives us confidence, for sure.
James Shields (15-10, 2.70) is scheduled to start for the Rays. He took the Rays only loss in their three-game set at Fenway last month, despite throwing a complete-game three-hitter.
I dont think its dire, Jarrod Saltalamacchia said of the Sox predicament. Were still three games up. Were going to go out tomorrow and worry about that game. I think we cant really worry about the week ahead or tonights game. Go home tonight and move on.
Still, its comforting to know the ace will be on the mound.
At this point every game is a big game, Saltalamacchia said. Every win counts. I think its big for Josh. Hes had some rest now, so hes rested, ready to go. The ankle seems fine, so were looking for him to go out there and pitch a good game and the offense to go out there and swing the bats.
Its big, man, Scutaro said. We need to start working as a team. Pitching a little better, score some runs and play better defense. We havent been doing that lately so thats why weve been kind of struggling to win games. But the beautiful thing about baseball is tomorrows a new day.
Which is exactly what the Sox need.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen.