ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- There were scouts from at least 17 teams stacking the seats behind home plate at Tropicana Field Friday night. They weren’t there just to see a great pitching matchup, though they got one in Jon Lester of the Red Sox and David Price of the Rays.
They were there because they knew they were watching two teams who have planted “Open for Business” signs in their front yards. And while the Rays have been drawing a ton of attention for their willingness to part with left-handed ace Price, the Sox may be the ones who will be getting most of the action at the checkout counter.
The result: The Sox lost, 6-4, to the Rays, their fourth straight defeat on this trip, to fall three games behind the fourth-place Rays and nine games under .500. The Rays, who were 18 games under .500 (24-42) after play ended on June 10, are 26-11 since, the best record in the majors.
In less than four weeks, the Rays have passed a dozen teams in the overall standings in the span of just 19 games. That’s the kind of dramatic ascent the Sox aspired to when this trip began, but that idea has been safely put to rest.
The pitching duel: Lester left after six innings with a 3-2 lead. He gave up six hits, walked one, struck out seven, and was hurt only by Desmond Jennings’ two-run home run on a 2-0 fastball in the fifth. The no-decision was just his fourth in 21 decisions.
Price went eight innings, gave up eight hits and three runs, did not walk a batter and struck out 10. He has not given up more than three earned runs in his last dozen starts, and had allowed just four earned runs in his previous five starts.
Taz bedeviled: The Sox bullpen could not make the lead stand up. Lefty Andrew Miller hit light-hitting Jose Molina in the shin to open the seventh. Junichi Tazawa, who hadn’t pitched since Sunday, entered one out later, and had no command whatsoever. He went walk, RBI single, walk and three-run double to Evan Longoria.
No fireworks: Both managers correctly predicted that the teams would stick to playing ball even though Price and Ortiz were facing each other for the first time since Price drilled Ortiz on May 30, launching a harsh exchange. Price struck out Ortiz on three pitches in the first, Ortiz hit a first-ball flyout in the third, and then he lined his full-count single in the sixth. He hit into a force play in his last at-bat.