The going gets tougher for snakebit Sox

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- So, if scoring five runs in the first inning against Tampa Bay's David Price, one of the best left-handers in baseball, isn't sufficient to end a losing streak, what exactly is Plan B?

How about trying to win with a minor league call-up making his fourth big league start, backed by a tapped-out bullpen and a lineup that when healthy wasn't producing, and now has a huge fault line running right down its middle?

Those are the prospects Sunday facing the Boston Red Sox, who went 15 excruciating innings Saturday before losing their ninth straight game, 6-5, to the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that made franchise history with its third straight walk-off win while Andrew Miller extended a run of personal agony unmatched by any Sox reliever in at least 40 years, if ever.

Miller has now been charged with four losses in the span of 11 days, the most losses of any American League reliever, and all have come in walk-off fashion -- two in Minnesota, one in each of the first two games here. The one Saturday was particularly torturous: Miller gave up a leadoff single to James Loney, who grounded a ball through a vacant spot in Boston's shifted infield. Brandon Guyer then lay down a bunt that went undisturbed by either third baseman Brock Holt or Miller, each thinking the other was going to make a play.

The next batter, Desmond Jennings -- who on Friday night drew a walk off Miller, stole second and scored the winning run on a base hit by rookie Cole Figueroa off Burke Badenhop -- hit a comebacker to the left-hander, who fielded it cleanly, whirled and threw the ball past an uncovered second base into center field.

A pale-looking Miller lamented that he was unable to hold up on his throw when he realized that neither shortstop Jonathan Herrera nor second baseman Dustin Pedroia had arrived at the bag.

"Perfect storm," he said. "It happens. You'd like to think you could do something different about it. If I check up and get the out at first, I can still get a strikeout or a popup or put somebody on and still get the double play.

"We have options. Just the way it unfolded, I didn't react quick enough to shut it down, to realize I didn't have a play, or didn't like the play I had."

That ended a 5-hour, 16-minute exercise in which neither team had scored since the fifth inning. The Red Sox, who were missing Mike Napoli, David Ortiz and Shane Victorino, managed just two hits after the first inning, and advanced only one baserunner to second base the rest of the way, when Holt chopped a ball over the head of pitcher Cesar Ramos in the 13th and Ramos threw wildly to first. The Sox could not exploit that error, Ramos recovering to strike out Herrera and Mike Carp sandwiched around an intentional walk to Pedroia. The Sox went down on strikes 16 times, and from the ninth inning on had two strikeouts in four innings.

"There is no 'give up' in this group," Farrell said. "You do the best you can with what you have, where you are. That's the mode we're in right now."

The Rays' clubhouse reverberated with shouts after Miller's misplay made them winners.

"He's been through a tough stretch," Farrell said. "No question. Every [late] inning situation he's in, he's coming up on the short end. We're aware of it. We're conscious of it. We've got to go with who's available.

"The stuff is there -- there's no backing up the stuff. He's not catching a break right now, nor are we."

And so, with the Sox now eight games under .500 (20-28) and seven games behind first-place Toronto, they search for a way to avoid a third straight series sweep. Right-hander Brandon Workman, who started three games last season for the Sox and has had so-so results in Pawtucket this spring, is Sunday's emergency starter, Felix Doubront having gone on the disabled list after losing a one-on-one confrontation with a car door last week. The Sox went through seven relievers Saturday, so they were casting about for a way to keep another minor league call-up, reliever Alex Wilson, here for another day so they'd have at least one fresh arm behind Workman.

The lineup is in disarray. Right fielder Victorino went on the disabled list for a second time in less than two months with a strained right hamstring, prompting the recall of Daniel Nava; Victorino's first stint on the DL lasted 22 games. First baseman Napoli may soon join him on the DL as the roster move required to keep Wilson; unless the Sox can somehow get creative, that is the most obvious path available.

Farrell said Napoli is still bedeviled by the flu-like symptoms that sidelined him for two games last week, has hamstring and calf issues, and has never given the dislocated ring finger on his left hand a chance to fully heal, because he's tried to play through it.

Admirable, to be sure, but Napoli hasn't been the same hitter since dislocating the finger with a headfirst slide into second base April 15 in Chicago against the White Sox. Since then, Napoli has continued to draw his share of walks -- 24, which matches the number of hits he has gotten in that span -- but has just two home runs and 13 RBIs in that time.

"It's impacted [him]," Farrell said before Saturday's loss. "To what extent, it's hard to say, but ever since the injury it's pretty clear. He's not one to make excuses, but at the same time coming off the flu and everything he's dealing with, he needs at least a couple more days. This isn't a one-day thing; we're hopeful it's not 15."

In addition to Victorino and Napoli, DH Ortiz also sat in what Farrell called a planned day off to deal with a calf issue, though Ortiz did pinch hit for Jackie Bradley Jr. in the 10th and grounded out. Given Ortiz's numbers against Price (8-for-37, .216, no home runs), and the fact he had just one broken-bat single in his past 19 at-bats, the decision to rest him made sense. And when the Sox piled on Price for five runs in the first, the last three coming on A.J. Pierzynski's first three-run home run of the season (he also has a grand slam), it looked like the Sox might get away with their undermanned lineup.

But the Rays pecked away with single runs against Jake Peavy in the second and fourth, then tied the score in the fifth with three straight singles and a two-run double by Guyer, who whacked a hanging full-count curveball after Peavy had jumped ahead in the count, 0-2.

"That's the pitch," Peavy said, "that's going to haunt me all night."

The Sox clubhouse hasn't exactly turned into a ghost town, but without the music that blares after a win, it has become eerily quiet.

"I feel like I've got what, four losses, attached to my name in the last 11 days," said Miller, who had struck out Matt Joyce to end the 14th, the eighth straight inning in which seven Sox relievers had held the Rays scoreless, on four hits.

"That [stinks]. The goal is to win, not to feel good about yourself afterwards. Right now I'm the one who has been stuck on the field a bunch of times, and it feels like crap. I don't want to be there anymore. My job there is to put up a zero, however you get there, and I didn't do it.

"We're grinding it out. It's tough. Nobody wants to lose a game, let alone a streak we're on right now. All 25 guys, we're in a hole we've got to dig ourselves out of. I'm as much a part of that as anybody."

Gentlemen, start your shovels.