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Rays 5, Red Sox 4: Defensive problems almost ruin another good start

It’s a pattern, and this one almost fit.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

Well, it’s really never boring.

But I’m going to be honest. I think I’d be a happier fan if the Rays made fewer mistakes on defense.

Another Fast Start

After getting the leadoff man aboard in the previous two innings but not being able to drive him in, the Rays scored first in the top of the fourth. Evan Longoria grounded to third, but Josh Rutledge’s throw was short, and Mitch Moreland was unable to scoop it. Logan Morrison struck out, but Rickie Weeks Jr. lined through the right side for a single and both runners were able to advance to scoring position on a passed ball.

Colby Rasmus worked the count full before taking a fastball strike for three, right down the middle. As BA said in the broadcast, he was clearly looking for something else. But Tim Beckham did not let this turn into another missed opportunity. He hit a hard line drive into the left-center alley, and punctuated it with one of his snappy, crisp bat flips. Jackie Bradley Jr. cut the liner off and held him to a single.

Does a player really get to flip his bat on a two-RBI two-out single? Absolutely.

Run Derek, Run

Derek Norris is decently fast for a catcher. This was obvious in the top of the third when he hit a grounder to third base that Josh Rutledge fielded cleanly but then took way too much time to make his throw. There was no reason for Rutledge to take that much time, other than the incorrect assumption that Norris couldn’t run. It was first scored an E6 but changed to a hit. I think it was an E6.

Anyway, Norris picked up a legitimate groundball base hit through the left side in the fifth inning. Corey Dickerson followed that with a fly ball off the wall in straight center field, where Fenway is very deep. What might have been a homer in some other parts was a double here, and Jackie Bradley Jr. trouble with the carom. Norris ran very hard, scoring from first, and looking extremely tired after.

Which was made more funny by the fact that two batters later Evan hit an elevated fastball over The Monster and literally out of the stadium. Running not necessary.

Five Run Leads Are Easy to Hold, Right?

Yes, the Rays haven’t quite been the best at holding early leads recently. And yes, Alex Cobb seemed to be throwing a few more balls as the game wore on. But Cobb certainly wasn’t falling apart, and five runs is pretty safe, right? No reason to worry?

There was no reason to worry on the first out in the seventh, as Andrew Benintendi flew out to center. And there was no reason to worry for the second out of the seventh either, when Colby Young also hit a fly ball, this one to shallow right. Until all of a sudden there was.

Logan Morrison ran out from first base while Colby Rasmus came in from right. Morrison had a tough play, needing to make a catch over his shoulder, while Rasmus had an easy play—if he could get there. That’s why the outfielder is expected to take charge in that situation. Morrison glanced at Rasmus and thought he would, slowing up for a step and a half. But Rasmus never fully got on his horse, and by the time Morrison realized he had to make the play it was too late. The ball fell between them.

A frustrated Cobb walked the next batter.

And then Rutledge gave a swinging bunt tapped down the left-field line. It was a tough play, but Cobb tried to make it. Instead he threw past first base and into the stands. One run scored, and runners stopped at second and third. Sandy Leon lined down the rightfield line for a grounds-rule double, scoring two more.

That ended Cobb’s night, but it didn’t end the Rays night of defensive miscues.

With Jose Alvarado taking over from Cobb, Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a grounder to second base that Brad Miller could not field on the backhand. That first error allowed Leon to score. Then, after chasing the carom into center field, Miller threw wildly and wide of second. The second error sent Bradley Jr. to second base, and brought Erasmo Ramirez out of the bullpen to replace Alvarado.

It looked for a minute like the parade of fielding horrors would continue, as Longoria had trouble picking up a grounder on the very next at bat, but he pulled it together, and Logan Morrison bailed out Longo’s low throw with a very good scoop. Ramirez escaped the inning.

Erasmo started the eight as well, but gave up baserunners. Lefty specialist Danny Farquhar, however, came on with one out and a man on first, needing to strike out out Mitch Moreland, and he did. Alex Colome completed the four out save.

Some other notes:

  • In the second inning, with the Rays defense shifted to the first-base side, Mitch Moreland hit a popup just out of play foul of third base. It was interesting, because if it had been in playable, the only Ray with a chance was pitcher Alex Cobb. Most revealing was Cobb’s reaction—rather than point at the popup as pitchers sometimes do, he immediately started running for it, checked over his shoulder to verify that Longo had no play, and then got on his horse in earnest. Sure does seem like Cobb knows where his fielders are. He’s such a heady pitcher, I’d like to hear him talk in detail about exactly how that does and does not influence his approach.
  • There was an odd positioning sequence from the Red Sox in the third inning. With a man on first and Corey Dickerson batting the Sox played mostly straight up for the first four pitches of the at bat: 0-0 (strike), 0-1 (ball in dirt), 1-1 (swinging strike), and 1-2 (foul). But after that foul, Josh Rutledge trotted from third base to second base for a shift. They weren’t shifting for the first 1-2 pitch, but they did shift for the second one. Mistake—as in, were they supposed to shift one pitch earlier—or strategy? And if it was strategy, is it based on what Porcello is likely to throw? Does it potentially tip pitches?