"We only gave up three runs," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We have to do better offensively."
In defeat, the Rays moved to 45-42 on the season while losing for the 10th time in their last 15 games. The first-place Yankees won Friday night, which pushed the Rays to 8 1/2 games back in the American League East.
David Ortiz got the Red Sox going with two outs in the first inning when he hit his 23rd home run of the season, a solo shot on a 3-1 offering from Jeremy Hellickson.
The Red Sox got more in the second thanks largely to Hellickson. After striking out Will Middlebrooks to start the inning, Hellickson walked two and hit a batter to load the bases. Pedro Ciriaco then singled through the middle to drive home two for a 3-0 lead.
"The home run shouldn't have happened," Maddon said. "[Hellickson] throws him a 3-1 cookie and he knows he wasn't supposed to do that. The other was just a fortuitous hit for them. There's nothing you can do about that, but it was preceded by two walks and a hit batter. And that's kind of it."
Hellickson chalked up a quality start, holding the Red Sox to three runs on five hits and four walks in six-plus innings. But the right-hander's effort went for naught as he took his sixth loss of the season.
"I thought my stuff was pretty good," Hellickson said. "Made a bad pitch to Ortiz in the first that cost me, but overall I think my stuff was pretty good."
Maddon felt like Hellickson's stuff was the best he's shown all year.
"Stuff was outstanding," Maddon said. "Again he gave up only three runs against a pretty good offensive ballclub. So he did pitch well. We just didn't score enough runs to make him look good tonight. He was good enough to win."
Illustrating the Rays' offensive frustration has been the team's overall inability to put the bat on the ball. In the past four games, Rays hitters have struck out 47 times.
"Sometimes I'd rather a guy strike out than hit into a double play and give the next guy a chance," Maddon said. "So there's times when it's not such a bad out. We just have to do a better job of moving the baseball when we have to put pressure on the defense."
Then there are other times when the strikeout will want to make a manager tear out his hair. Like when Luke Scott struck out against Franklin Morales with two outs and the bases loaded in the fourth. To do so, the Rays slugger swung at what would have been ball three and ball four, which were way high and out of the strike zone.
"That's an example of where we have to get a little better decision making or pitch selection right there," Maddon said. "And these are things we're actively talking about and trying to get better."
The only other real chances the Rays had to score came in the first and eighth innings, and each featured a baserunning gaffe.
In the first, the Rays had runners on first and second with two outs and Jeff Keppinger at bat. Keppinger is tough on left-handers, which meant that Morales would likely pitch around him with the open base. In theory, Keppinger would have likely accepted his walk to load the bases. But before that could happen, B.J. Upton got picked off of first base to end the inning.
Ben Zobrist doubled to lead off the eighth, then Upton lined out to right fielder Ryan Sweeney, who made a nice sliding catch. Zobrist then compounded the problem by getting thrown out after tagging up trying to get to third.
"I saw him go to the ground," Zobrist explained. "I didn't see him pop up that quick, and I just wanted to be aggressive and get to third base with less than two outs."
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine stressed the importance of Sweeney's catch and throw.
"Ryan Sweeney's play has to be the play of the game," Valentine said. "With Mike's [Aviles] throw and Nick's [Punto] tag, that's a game-saver right there."
Since starting the season 13-1 at home, the Rays have gone 11-19 over their last 30 games at Tropicana Field, averaging only 3.6 runs per game in that span.
"We're trying to scratch to score runs," Zobrist said. "We need to score more runs. We're trying to do everything we can to make that happen. You gotta keep battling and trying to force the issue on the other guys. That's what we're gonna keep doing. We're not gonna be afraid to make mistakes and keep playing hard, and let the chips fall where they may."