Everything went right for the Red Sox in 2013 as they bulldozed their way to a World Series title. So far in 2014, just about everything has gone wrong in Boston.
On Saturday, the Red Sox built a 5-0 lead in the first inning against the Rays and looked poised to snap a season-worst eight-game losing streak. Instead, the team coughed up its lead, then struggled through 15 brutal innings before finally falling to the Rays, 6-5, on a walk-off error/single by Desmond Jennings. Boston's nine-game losing streak is its worst-such skid since 2001 and has dropped it firmly into the AL East cellar at 20-28, a whopping seven games behind the Blue Jays for first place. The ninth straight loss marks the most consecutive losses for a defending champ since the 1998 Marlins.
It all started so promisingly for the Sox, who hung five first-inning runs on David Price. Boston's first four hitters all reached thanks to two singles, a walk and a hit by pitch of Mike Carp that drove in the first run of the game. A sacrifice fly from Jonny Gomes followed, then a three-run homer off the bat of A.J. Pierzynski to make it 5-0 with just one out in the game. But the Red Sox were unable to do any more damage in the frame, which would prove costly as starter Jake Peavy gradually gave away the lead over the next five innings. Tampa Bay got one back in the bottom of the second on a sacrifice fly, another run in the fourth on an RBI single by Logan Forsythe, and then tied the game in the fifth on RBI hits from Matt Joyce and Brandon Guyer.
As Peavy faltered, Price buckled down to keep the Red Sox off the board. After David Ross hit an infield single with two outs in the first, Price retired 19 of the next 20 hitters he faced, allowing just a walk to Gomes in the third. He held Boston hitless until the eighth, when Xander Bogaerts led the inning off with a single, but then got Dustin Pedroia to strike out looking and induced a double-play groundball from Carp to finish the frame and his day. Despite a 34-pitch first inning, Price breezed through the next seven innings on just 65 pitches, including two 10-pitch innings and a seven-pitch sixth. That helped make up for an uncharacteristically wild day from Price, who walked two hitters for the first time in a regular-season game since Sept. 15 against Minnesota, when he handed out three free passes; he walked two in his only start of the ALDS last year against Boston.
Even getting Price out of the game did nothing for Boston's moribund offense. Over the next seven innings, Red Sox hitters picked up a single hit -- a single by Brock Holt in the 13th off Cesar Ramos -- and three walks while striking out nine times. For the game, Boston batters whiffed 16 times. Holt and Bogaerts were the only Sox players to pick up at least two hits (Holt went 2-for-7, Bogaerts 2-for-5), and Bogaerts was forced to leave the game in the 12th inning with what the team called a hamstring cramp.
Boston has to hope Bogaerts' injury is a minor one, as it simply can't afford to lose any more players. Before the game, the Red Sox placed Shane Victorino on the disabled list with a hamstring strain suffered running the bases Friday. Mike Napoli remains sidelined with a variety of issues, ranging from a dislocated finger to flu symptoms to cramps in his calf and hamstring, and is unlikely to play before Tuesday.
The team is also down starting third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who is on the DL with a broken finger, and won't be getting Stephen Drew on the roster for another week. Daniel Nava is back with the club in Victorino's stead, but the Sox are incredibly short-handed at as bad a time as any.
The Rays, meanwhile, are taking advantage of Boston's woes to pick themselves out of the division basement. This was Tampa's third consecutive walk-off win. Much of the credit can go to Price and the bullpen (which threw seven scoreless innings), but Tampa's offense also deserves some props for pulling the team out of the 5-0 hole. But the Rays got some major help from Boston's cratering offense and some brutal defense by reliever Andrew Miller.
With runners on first and second and none out in the bottom of the 15th, Miller got Jennings to tap a ball right back to the mound, setting up a tailor-made double play ... except Miller ended up flinging the ball into center field, letting Cole Figueroa come around to score the winning run and giving Tampa Bay its third-straight walk-off win. The Rays will have a shot at a sweep Sunday afternoon when they send Jake Odorizzi up against fill-in starter Brandon Workman, who's taking the place of the injured Felix Doubront in Boston's rotation. If the Red Sox can't snap the skid Sunday, they'll be making some unpleasant history, as the franchise hasn't lost 10 straight regular-season games since 1976. But at least the Red Sox still have a ways to go to break the team record for consecutive losses, set way back in 1926, when the team dropped 17 straight games en route to a 46-107 season. It's unlikely Boston will finish with 100-plus losses, which the team hasn't done since 1965, but history is already against them: No Red Sox team has ever lost nine or more in a row and made the postseason.