ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - Failure to hit with runners in scoring position has been a major problem for the Tampa Bay Rays as they have dropped 12 of their last 16 games, including Tuesday night's 2-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox.
But the problem was a little different Tuesday night. This time the Rays got only two men into scoring position against Clay Buchholz and three relievers.
Buchholz (10-0) allowed three hits over five innings in his first start since early June and the AL East-leading Red Sox stretched their lead to 8 1-2 games over the second-place Rays.
Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner David Price (8-8) lost his third straight start despite giving up just two runs and three hits in eight innings, striking out nine.
``This is a huge (loss) against a team that was 7 1-2 games in front of us. Right now it's all about winning so I wanted our team to win,' Price said. ``You can't dwell on it. We've got 19 games left, so you go now or we won't be hanging around in October.'
Jonny Gomes and Jarod Saltalamacchia drove in Boston's runs in the fifth inning after Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings failed to catch Mike Napoli's leadoff double against the wall in center field.
``I didn't reach out high enough. It's a play that should be made,' said Jennings, who compounded the problem with a bad throw after Gomes' single, enabling Gomes to get to second base and later score on Saltalamacchia's sacrifice fly.
``If you hit the cutoff man, at least he has the option of redirecting the throw and possibly getting an out,' said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who was almost as baffled by Jennings' failure to catch Napoli's double.
``That's a tough play for Desmond, but it's a play he's made in the past and that led to the two runs right there,' Maddon said. ``It's awkward to see because he's so good out there.'
Jennings, who had one of the Rays' four hits, acknowledged he is not playing well at bat or in the field.
``I don't know what it is actually,' he said. ``It's a bad time to be playing bad.'
Sidelined by a strained neck, Buchholz hadn't pitched in the majors since beating the Los Angeles Angels on June 8. Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara finished. Uehara, who has retired the last 31 batters he has faced, got the final four outs for his 19th save.
``Not much going offensively,' Red Sox manager John Farrell said. ``'We bunch two hits together, the double and the single . . . and a sacrifice fly. We drive in a run, we manufacture another and that was the difference tonight.'
The Rays, 4-12 while scoring only 41 runs in those 16 games since Aug. 25, are still leading the race for the second AL wild-card spot.
``Boston has beaten us because they've actually out-pitched us in a lot of close games,' Maddon said. ``We're just going to have to figure out how to break through, offensively speaking.'
NOTES: The announced crowd was 18,605. Tampa Bay started the day with the majors lowest home attendance average at 18,719. ... Boston 2B Dustin Pedroia hit leadoff for the first time this season and singled in four at_bats. Farrell didn't rule out Pedroia staying in the role until OF Jacoby Ellsbury returns from a foot injury. ... Ellsbury missed his fourth consecutive game and will not resume baseball activities for at least the next few days. ... Tampa Bay reliever Jesse Crain (strained right shoulder) had his second bullpen session and could throw batting practice within the next week. ...The Red Sox reinstated Buchholz from the 60-day DL and designated RHP Jose De La Torre for assignment.
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