By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
BOSTON The Rays came to Fenway Park on Thursday trailing the Red Sox by four games in the American League wild-card race. For the Red Sox, it represented an opportunity to open some distance between themselves and Tampa Bay, and to prove they deserved a playoff spot.
They failed on all fronts.
Tim Wakefield, just one start after earning his 200th career win, was the latest Sox starter to fall victim to the Rays aggressive lineup, as Tampa Bay beat the Sox, 8-5, Sunday afternoon. With the win, the Rays took three of four games this weekend. They also took the season series, 12-6, winning 9 of the last 10 games.
The Rays scored first in each of the four games this weekend, just as they did in 14 of 18 games in the season series, including the last 10 straight and 12 of the last 13. On Sunday, the Rays built a 4-0 lead before the Sox could get on the scoreboard.
Wakefield went five innings, giving up six runs (two earned) on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts. He also had a wild pitch and hit a batter. He threw 103 pitches, 65 for strikes.
Not a lot of clean innings, said manager Terry Francona. You look at a hundred pitches after five . . . it signifies that it's hard. Just never got in a real good rhythm. Threw some real good knuckleballs. You see catcher Jarod Saltalamacchia having trouble catching it, but Wakefield seemed to be working out of the stretch a lot.
It doesnt help. Stating the obvious. But thats what happens sometimes when Wakes pitching. You kind of have to be a little patient when he gets a strikeout and it goes back to the backstop allowing the batter to reach. Tough way to start the inning but thats the way it goes. Try to find a way to not let it affect the outcome of the game.
Saltalamacchia had a career-high four passed balls.
It was real tough, Saltalamacchia said. I think the wind might have played a little factor on the ball the way it was moving. I thought his ball was moving a lot. But no excuse. You got to do the best you can with it. I never gave in. I felt like I just gave it the best job I can give. We just got to go out there and turn the page and go for tomorrow.
In the Rays' three-run second inning, Casey Kotchman led off by striking out, but reached first base on a passed ball. In Tampas two-run fifth, Desmond Jennings led off with a single, then moving around the bases to score on a stolen base, wild pitch, and passed ball on three consecutive pitches.
Meanwhile, the Sox had just one hit off Rays' starter David Price through the first three innings a Mike Aviles double in the first. But it was Aviles liner off the Prices upper right chest in the third that went for a 1-5-3 out that knocked the Rays left-hander from the game after four innings for precautionary reasons. The Sox had just two runs on three hits and three walks with two strikeouts off Price.
Price was not in the game long enough to earn the win, which went to Jake McGee.
The lost weekend was a combined effort or lack thereof. Other than Josh Becketts win on Friday, Sox starters went a combined 15 innings, giving up 14 runs (10 earned) on up 14 hits, 7 walks, 2 wild pitches, and a hit batter with 2 home runs and 11 strikeouts in the series, for 6.00 ERA.
But it wasnt just the pitching that failed to show for the Sox. The Rays outscored the Sox, 24-14 in the series. The Sox hit just .233 (30-for-129). This season, Rays pitchers held Sox batters to a .178 average (89-for-501). The mark replaces the Sox previous low against an opponent since 1966 (with a minimum of 10 games) when they hit .204 against Baltimore. The Rays have held the Sox to a .162 average (30-for-185) at Fenway this season, also a new low.
I think we know the situation were in, said Saltalamacchia. I think we know what type of team we got. Just seemed like in this series, no breaks really went out way. But we got to turn the page and worry about tomorrow.
The Sox entered September with a record of 83-52, with a 1 12-game lead over the Yankees in the division. The have gone 4-13 since then. They are 2-9 in their last 11 games and 3-11 in their last 14.
Its been frustrating for all of us in here, Wakefield said. We just need to play better baseball. Its staying the obvious that were not playing very well right now. But we got two tomorrow against Baltimore and hopefully we can gain two.
Things happen, man, you know, David Ortiz said. You get caught into this sometimes and you got to find your way up. We need to find out way up. That's it.
The Sox insist the mood in the clubhouse is good, the team is confident, no one is panicking.
Not me, Ortiz said. We could win and pretty much everybody around here feels the same. Got to come back and play better, man.
Were happy as expletive, said Dustin Pedroia, who went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts Sunday. We got a two-game lead with 10 to go. Were ready to go. We just havent played very good. Thats basically it. Were not going to sit back and feel sorry for ourselves for playing like crap. We got to go. Nobodys going to give us anything.
While the Rays head to New York to face the Yankees, the Sox will host the last-place Orioles for four games, including Mondays doubleheader. The Sox face 7 of their final 10 games of the regular season against the Os, who have suddenly become players in the wild-card and A.L. West races after taking two of three from the Rays at the beginning of the week and two of three from the Angels.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen