Rays 5, Red Sox 3

No relief in sight, Sox fall to Rays

Kelly Shoppach Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jose Molina, rear, catches the Red Sox' Kelly Shoppach at home for an out with the bases loaded to end the top of the fifth inning Saturday. (Brian Blanco / AP photo)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 15, 2012
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There was a time when the Red Sox were talented, deep, and intelligent enough to overcome a poorly timed physical error or a lapse in judgment.

Those qualities made them one of the best teams in baseball, the kind others tried to emulate. But those days have faded away to a point where such mistakes are frequent and almost always fatal.

Saturday night’s 5-3 loss against the Tampa Bay Rays was a prime example.

The stripped-down Sox scored three runs against All-Star David Price, one of the best starters in the American League, twice taking leads against him. But they could not hold either one and were left with their seventh loss in nine games.

At 44-44, the Red Sox are 10½ games behind the Yankees in the AL East, their largest deficit of the season.

“Kind of frustrating all the way around,” manager Bobby Valentine said.

Clay Buchholz came off the disabled list after nearly a month away and pitched well, taking a 3-2 lead into the seventh inning.

The Sox got a two-run homer from Will Middlebrooks in the fourth and scored another run on a throwing error by Price in the sixth.

Buchholz was only at 79 pitches to that point, but Valentine checked to make sure he was sure he wanted to go back out for the seventh.

“I wouldn’t have told him I felt fine if I didn’t feel fine,” Buchholz said. “Everything felt good.”

But Buchholz started the inning by walking Luke Scott, a .201 hitter, on five pitches. Then he hit Jeff Keppinger. A sacrifice bunt by Desmond Jennings pushed the runners into scoring position.

It was the only walk of the game for Buchholz, who struck out eight and allowed three hits.

“Buchholz was really good. Really good to right at the end there,” Valentine said. “I had questions about sending him out, but he didn’t have many pitches and he said he hadn’t even broken a sweat yet.”

Matt Albers, who struck out three of the four batters he faced Friday, came in.

Rays manager Joe Maddon sent up Hideki Matsui as a pinch hitter. Valentine ordered him walked to load the bases.

A second pinch hitter, Jose Lobaton, walked on a 3-and-2 pitch to force in the tying run. Elliot Johnson gave the Rays the lead with a sacrifice fly to center.

“He’s a pro. Figure I’d take the young guy [Lobaton] and get one ground ball and get out of the inning instead of going after a guy who has made his living driving runs in,” said Valentine about the decision to walk Matsui.

The Rays scored two runs without a hit. Buchholz (8-3) blamed himself for walking Scott, setting up the rest of the inning.

“I was still trying to find my changeup at that point in the game and spiked a couple of them. Can’t give free base runners to a team like this,” he said.

Jacoby Ellsbury led off the eighth with a double. Pedro Ciriaco, who was 10 of 19 since being called up, curiously decided to bunt for a base hit and popped the ball up to the catcher. It was a waste of a precious out, particularly with a runner in scoring position.

“We weren’t trying for a tie on the road,” Valentine said.

Said Ciriaco: “I was on my own. I was trying to get something going.”

The Rays scored a run in the fifth on a physical error.

With Keppinger on third and one out, Jose Molina hit a groundball to shortstop. Mike Aviles had the time — and the arm — to make a play at the plate. But the ball deflected off his glove.

“I’m mad at myself for rushing it because I had time,” said Aviles, whose throwing error cost the Sox a run Friday. “I have to make that play.”

The Sox ran into an out in the sixth. With the bases loaded and one out, Ciriaco hit a liner to right field, Ben Zobrist making the play coming in. Slow-footed backup catcher Kelly Shoppach tagged up at third and was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.

The Rays increased their lead in the eighth when B.J. Upton homered off Andrew Miller.

The Red Sox got the tying run to the plate in the ninth when Aviles singled off Fernando Rodney. Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit for Shoppach and struck out out.

Light-hitting Brent Lillibridge and slumping Daniel Nava were next. But Valentine was out of options as Adrian Gonzalez (back) and Ryan Sweeney (left hamstring) were unavailable. Lillibridge struck out and Nava (7 of his last 60) flied to left.

The Sox are 23-32 in games decided by three runs or fewer. It’s not hard to see why.

“It’s frustrating to lose games like this,” Aviles said. “We’re not in a position to do that.”

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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