Published September 19, 2012
| Associated Press
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Rays are running out of explanations for a skid that has them sliding out of playoff contention.
"I don't have anything brilliant to say," manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday after the Boston Red Sox rallied for a 7-5 victory that dealt another blow to his team's bid to earn a postseason berth for the fourth time in five years. "We're just not playing well and we've got to figure it out relatively quick — not relatively quick, very quickly."
Felix Doubront limited Tampa Bay's sputtering offense to one hit over six innings and Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, James Loney, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway drove in runs for the last-place Red Sox, who beat their AL East rivals for the second straight night.
The third-place Rays have lost four straight and dropped six games behind the division-leading New York Yankees, who were rained out Tuesday.
Five Boston pitchers held the Rays to three singles. The Rays also hurt themselves by committing three errors for the second straight night.
Maddon, however, isn't questioning the team's effort. The Rays made the playoffs as division champions in 2008 and 2010 and rallied from a big deficit in September to earn a wild-card spot on the final night of last season.
"I don't get frustrated or annoyed when the effort is good. It's more unexplainable because we normally thrive in these moments and we're playing kind of tight," the manager said.
"We're playing uptight, we're Jonesing out there a little bit. I don't understand why because I really believe we've maintained the clubhouse in the same fashion that we normally do," Maddon added. "This time of the year is the time I thought we really enjoy the most, and for whatever reason it's just not thriving or happening right now."
Doubront (11-9) settled down after a shaky third inning when he loaded the bases on three walks before yielding a two-run single to Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria's sacrifice fly. The left-hander walked five and struck out five, ending a stretch in which he went 0-5 over eight starts dating to late July.
The Red Sox, who already have been eliminated from playoff contention, scored a run in the fourth and two more in the fifth. They took the lead with an unearned run off Kyle Farnsworth (1-6) in the sixth, then tacked on three more in the seventh when Saltalamacchia had an RBI single and Lavarnway followed with a two-run double off Wade Davis.
The Rays lost for the seventh time in eight games despite four RBIs from Zobrist, who added a two-run single off Junichi Tazawa in the seventh to help Tampa Bay pull within 7-5. The runs were charged to Clayton Mortensen, who loaded the bases with two outs when he hit Carlos Pena with a pitch and walked the next two batters.
Andrew Bailey pitched the ninth for his fifth save, completing a three-hitter.
"It's frustrating," Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton said. "You really can't say much more than that."
Doubront earned his first victory since July 18, when he beat the Chicago White Sox.
The lefty walked Sean Rodriguez, Desmond Jennings and Upton to load the bases with one out in the third, then watched all of them score on Zobrist's first hit and Longoria's fly ball to left. He eventually got into a groove and retired 11 of his last 12 batters, limiting the Rays to a one-out walk in the fifth.
"He deserved to win," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "He had that third inning. A couple calls that he got upset with. Three runs later he's on the verge of coming out of the game. Then he got his 11th win. I'm really happy for him. He's been trying for that one for a long time."
Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson allowed three runs and five hits in four-plus innings.
Loney singled in a run in the fourth, and the Red Sox chased Hellickson when Jose Iglesias walked and Pedro Ciriaco and Ellsbury singled to begin the fifth. Ellsbury's hit trimmed Tampa Bay's lead to 3-2 and Boston pulled even on Pedroia's sacrifice fly off Jake McGee.
Boston broke the tie on a throwing error by Rodriguez, filling in at third base for Longoria, who served as the designated hitter.
A year after finishing with a major league-low 73 errors, the Rays have 109 with 14 games remaining.
"I don't see fatigue out of the players or pitchers," Maddon said. "We're just not playing well right now."
NOTES: Longoria, who missed 85 games earlier this season due to a partially torn left hamstring, returned after sitting out Monday to rest his legs. Maddon said he may play in the field for the remainder of the four-game series. ... Boston bench coach Tim Bogar is scheduled to interview Wednesday for the open Houston managerial position. "I hope it works well for him," Valentine said. ... Red Sox RHP John Lackey (right elbow surgery) threw batting practice and is scheduled to pitch Sunday in an instructional league intrasquad game in Fort Myers.