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Closing Time: Rays 9, Red Sox 4

06.30.10 at 10:48 pm ET
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It would not be much of a stretch to suggest that Matt Garza is the pitcher with whom the Red Sox have the most dificulty right now. The Rays right-hander entered his start in Boston with a 6-3 record and 3.36 ERA against Boston, and since the start of the 2009 season, he owned a 3-2 record and 3.07 record against his AL East foe, the latter mark being the best by any pitcher in the majors with at least 30 innings against Boston.

“We’ve seen him at the top of his game,” Sox manager Terry Francona said before Wednesday’s game.

The Sox caught another glimpse of Garza’s best stuff on Wednesday, as Boston lost to Tampa Bay by a 9-4 count. Garza overpowered the Sox through seven innings, allowing just one run before he tired in the eighth (following a lengthy half-inning by his teammates at the expense of Sox relievers). Garza finished the night having allowed three runs on six hits in seven innings, striking out five in the process.

That performance proved more than enough, in no small part due to another night on which the Sox bullpen looked like a major vulnerability.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–The Red Sox remained in the game into the eighth inning, trailing just 3-1 despite Garza’s excellence. But any hopes of a comeback quickly vanished on the watch of a bullpen that allowed six runs on Wednesday after permitting four scores the night before.

Manny Delcarmen continued a stretch in which he has been brutally ineffective. All five Rays who faced him reached base: three on singles, one on a walk, one on a double. All five crossed the plate. Over his last three outings, 11 of the 14 batters he’s faced have reached base, with nine crossing the plate. Over those three appearances (in one week), he has seen his ERA soar from 2.23 to 4.59. Ramon Ramirez allowed the runners he inherited from Delcarmen to score when he gave up a homer to Jason Bartlett, leading to a night in which the Boston bullpen permitted six runs.

The Boston bullpen now has one of the worst ERAs in the game (4.80), and has permitted 35 homers (most in the AL). While GM Theo Epstein said on Tuesday that the Sox would prefer to achieve a bullpen improvement through better performances by their current group of relievers, that possibility seems increasingly unlikely.

Kevin Youkilis has been so good for the last three years that he is, at times, subject to unfair standards. That is certainly the case in suggesting that the Sox first baseman is currently ensnared in a slump that spans all of seven games. That said, he had his worst night of a recent tough spell on Wednesday, going 0-for-4 and punching out twice against Garza. He has now gone down on strikes in 10 of his 26 at-bats during his last seven games, a span in which he is hitting .154/.231/.346/.577. He has struck out multiple times in six of his last 10 games.

Youkilis also committed one play that was charged as an error, throwing a ball away on a relay to the plate (a throw he should not have even attempted), and later kicked a hard-hit ball to his right that was scored a single — a difficult play, but one that he often makes.

Mike Cameron failed to make a difficult play that could have changed the complexion of the game. With runners on the corners and one out in the top of the fourth inning of a scoreless game, he mistimed his leap on a drive to deep center field by Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach. And so, instead of hauling in the ball at the wall in center field, it sailed just over Cameron’s glove for a two-run double. The play had a high degree of difficulty, but it could have been made. While one of the runs would have scored (as a sac fly), the other might not have crossed the plate in the inning. Indeed, the play became of even greater consequence when the Rays added on another run with a two-out single by Ben Zobrist that scored Shoppach.

J.D. Drew was a late scratch from the lineup with a stiff neck.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

David Ortiz served as the Red Sox offense, clubbing a pair of doubles and driving in three runs. Though it was not on a level with his exceptional performance in May, the Sox DH finished June with a .238 average, .928 OPS, six homers and 22 RBI. It was particularly noteworthy that opposing teams are once again pitching around Ortiz, who led the majors with 21 walks in the month of June.

–It wasn’t pretty, but Daisuke Matsuzaka gave the Red Sox a quality start. He allowed three runs in six innings — all in the fourth inning — while allowing just four hits and four walks. He punched out seven.

Matsuzaka managed to avoid harm despite loading the bases on three walks in the first inning. But he could not elude harm after starting the fourth with a walk and a single that put runners on the corners in front of Kelly Shoppach‘s two-run double and a two-out run-scoring single by Ben Zobrist. Even so, had a defensive play been made on Shoppach’s double, Matsuzaka might have finished the night having allowed just one run.

Eric Patterson made some positive contributions in his first game with the Red Sox, collecting a single, getting hit by a pitch, scoring a run and working a 10-pitch flyout against Rays starter Garza. However, he also became the first Red Sox since Sean Casey (March 26, 2008) to ground into a double play in his first plate appearance with the Sox. (It is worth noting, however, that Patterson was likely safe at first base.) For the day, he was 1-for-3.

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