ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Memo to Jack McCormick, Red Sox traveling secretary:
On future excursions here, no need to pack the beach umbrellas, sunscreen, and margarita mix - and you might want to leave the kids at home, too. Trips to the Trop no longer qualify as a vacation. Too stressful, having to deal with these young and restless Rays.
Akinori Iwamura's two-out, two-run home run in the eighth inning, just the third hit allowed by Sox rookie Clay Buchholz, gave the Rays their second straight one-run win over the Sox, 2-1, before a cowbell-waving sellout crowd of 36,048 at Tropicana Field unaccustomed to seeing the hometown team do in the Sox.
The Rays have won five in a row, their longest winning streak in almost three years. The Sox, playing without Sean Casey (strained hip, disabled list) and David Ortiz (bruised right knee, not expected to play today, either) have lost four in a row and were caught atop the American League East by the Baltimore Orioles.
"He hit a good pitch, man," said Buchholz, who struck out nine, the same number as in his no-hitter Sept. 1 against the Orioles. "When I let it go, I thought he was either going to take it or swing over it, but he was sitting all over it. Hats off to him. I threw a pitcher's pitch and he hit it."
Iwamura, who lined a changeup to the track in center in the third inning - the only fair ball hit in the air by the Rays for seven innings - confirmed he was looking for a curveball on Buchholz's 110th pitch of the game.
"He left a breaking ball over the plate in a game where basically all of our offense was generated by Coco [Crisp] and his legs," manager Terry Francona said. "I thought Clay was great. He just gave up a home run when we didn't need him to."
Iwamura's home run, his first since Sept. 3, came after a pinch-hit single by Dioner Navarro with one out in the eighth. It ended a string of 13 successive Rays set down by Buchholz.
Buchholz, who opened the inning by whiffing Gabe Gross, thought he had Navarro punched out, too, with an 0-and-2 breaking ball, but plate umpire Dan Iassogna thought otherwise. Navarro lined the next pitch into right on one bounce to right fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
"I left a changeup in the zone and that's where it started," Buchholz said.
Buchholz retired the next batter, Jason Bartlett, on a fly to center, but with Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima warming in the bullpen, Iwamura lined a 1-and-1 pitch over the right-field fence.
Looking to hit in a home run in that situation? "No," Iwamura, who had been using a translator, said in English. "I am little."
For much of the night, the Sox showed the Rays they didn't hold a monopoly on precociousness and talent. Buchholz, eight starts into his big-league career, held the Rays to one hit through seven innings. Ellsbury's infield hit gave Buchholz the only run he had to work with, and Crisp showed the daring of a teenager to set up that run.
Crisp singled in the fifth and went from first to third on a wild pitch before scoring on Ellsbury's smash to third that was speared by diving rookie Evan Longoria, who didn't have enough time to throw out the swift Ellsbury. But after collecting 10 or more hits in their last six games and 12 of their previous 13, the Sox managed just five off 24-year-old Edwin Jackson and three relievers, none after Ellsbury's hit.
The Sox will send Josh Beckett to the mound today to try to break their streak in the last of 20 straight days in which they have played. "We're pretty unlucky right now," said Kevin Youkilis, who made a little history by setting the major-league record for most chances handled by a first baseman without an error. "Hopefully we can get back on track and enjoy that off day we really need."
Youkilis set the record when he caught Dustin Pedroia's flip on Eric Hinske's grounder to end the seventh, giving him 1,701 errorless chances, one more than Stuffy McInnis, the Gloucester, Mass., native. McInnis's streak began with the Sox in 1921 and ended with the Indians in 1922.
Buchholz's performance lacked the overarching suspense of his no-hitter. B.J. Upton ended the no-hit pools just as quickly as they were organized with a ground double into the left-field corner to open the fourth.
Manny Delcarmen and Okajima warmed in the seventh, but when Buchholz dispatched the Rays on just seven pitches, he was deemed willing and able to go another inning, his pitch count at 94.
"I felt I was getting stronger as the game went on, I felt my location was getting better, and I started incorporating my slider later in the game, another pitch added," said Buchholz, who threw 103 pitches in six scoreless innings against the Rangers in his previous start. "I always look to see if Tito is walking to the end of the dugout. When I didn't see him, that's when I started preparing to go back out there."
Francona, meanwhile, saw no reason to summon either Okajima, who had never faced Iwamura on this side of the pond, or Papelbon, who had held Iwamura hitless in four at-bats.
"His stuff was electric," he said.
It was hard to quarrel with that decision, until Iwamura sent one over the fence.
The Rays entrusted the last three outs to 38-year-old Troy Percival, the pitching equivalent of Gabe Kapler. Percival, who started last season as a minor-league instructor, struck out Jason Varitek to end it.
"I always talk about finishing things off," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "For the last two nights we've been able to finish things off."