Rays get off to good start but lose to Red Sox again

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays didn’t win Tuesday because their offense has again disappeared, managing only two first-inning runs off ex-mate Cooper Criswell and a quartet of Boston relievers.

They lost because their own bullpen, which had been the league’s best for most of May, failed them as Jason Adam, aided by a bad decision by second baseman Brandon Lowe on a double steal, allowed two tie-breaking runs in the eighth.

The result was a 5-2 loss that was their season-high-matching third straight, dropped them back to .500 at 25-25 and moved them into fourth place behind Boston. After taking three of four last week in Boston, the Rays need a win Wednesday to avoid being swept.

“It sucks. We all hate losing,” Adam said. “Nothing we as bullpen arms hate more than blowing the game.”

The way they did was a bit odd, and not all Adam’s fault.

Speedy Ceddanne Rafaela led off the eighth with a single and stole second, then Jarren Duran walked. Wilyer Abreu rolled a single up the middle, scoring Rafaela with the go-ahead run and sending Duran to third.

Abreu broke for second and the Rays made a play that ended up working. Catcher Ben Rortvedt threw to second, Abreu got there in time without sliding, but went too far and came off the base, and Lowe tagged Abreu out as Duran held.

After Tyler O’Neill struck out and Rafael Devers was intentionally walked, the Sox tried running again with two out, and this time got an important insurance run.

As Devers broke for second, Rortvedt — following orders from the bench — threw to second to try to get him out. Devers, who rarely steals, made a smart play by pausing short of the base.

That’s where Lowe had to make a decision, and made the wrong one to throw home rather than run down Devers. Duran broke hard for the plate and slid in ahead of the throw, which Lowe bounced.

“Looking back on the play, my fault,” Lowe said. “I jumped up to catch the ball, left my feet to catch the ball, and no matter what the situation is, I’m probably not going to throw Duran out off my back foot. I’ve got to understand who’s running at third and understand how close Devers actually was to me.

“I saw him stop out of the corner of my eye. I thought that he was going to probably backpedal. Didn’t end up backpedaling, but it still falls back on me. I have to know that, (with) the speed that’s on third, I’m probably not going to throw him out, but I have a chance to run Devers down before (Duran) gets to the plate.”

Rortvedt took some of the blame for putting Lowe in that position. “We feel like Devers stealing second is someone that I’m able to throw out,” he said. “So, (I’ve) got to make a better throw there.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash said that the Sox deserve some credit as well: “Ideally we’d probably tag him, but that’s a big ask right there. They made a nice baseball play.”

The Rays actually got off to a good start, as the two runs and four hits they got in the first (Josh Lowe single, Randy Arozarena double, Isaac Paredes two-run single, Jonathan Aranda infield single) were more than they got all of Monday. The problem was, they didn’t add on with two on and one out.

“When you look at that first inning, I think the first four or five guys hit the ball over 100 miles an hour,” Brandon Lowe said. “I mean, it kind of stinks when you don’t walk out of there with more runs than that.”

That has been an issue of late, as the Rays over their last three games have a total of four runs and 14 hits (.154 average).

On Thursday in Boston, the Rays chased Criswell — who spent parts of 2022-23 with them — in the fourth, scoring five runs (three earned). Tuesday, he prevailed, lowering his ERA to 2.86 as the Sox won for the sixth time in his seven starts.

“I felt like last outing against them, I was going too fast and got out of my mechanics which caused me to yank some of those changeups and sweepers and ultimately led to too many three-ball counts,” Criswell said. “Just try to get back to filling up the strike zone and I feel like we did that (Tuesday).”

Zack Littell gave the Rays a solid start, allowing a run on two singles and a walk in the second, and a game-tying homer to Duran leading off the sixth, with a streak of 10 straight retired in between.

But he had some other issues, struck on the left hand by a foul ball in the dugout, a sty in his left eye that required between-inning compresses, and being assessed a ball on a pitch-clock violation that he and Cash said should not have been, and said they clarified later with the umpires.

“Just an unfortunate series of events,” Littell said.

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