Two costly errors burn Red Sox in loss to the Rays

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BOSTON — When Tanner Houck took the mound in the sixth inning with 95 pitches already thrown, it had the feel of a make-or-break inning.

It wasn’t Houck who broke, though, after a career-high 112-pitch effort, but a familiar foe in his defense that let him down as the Boston Red Sox fell 4-3 to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Houck was by no means perfect, walking three batters, something he’d done one other time through eight starts. But he’d entered the night having walked just eight batters total on the season so his command was uncharacteristically off. Still, the right-hander battled through five innings holding onto a 2-1 lead and struck out the first batter of the sixth, surpassing 100 pitches. After back-to-back singles, Houck struck out Ben Rortverdt and manager Alex Cora came to the mound and turned the ball over to reliever Greg Weissert.

Jose Siri greeted Weissert with a single to left to tie the game 2-2. With Yandy Díaz at the plate, the runner at second, Jose Caballero, broke for third in a double-steal attempt. Catcher Connor Wong’s throw arrived on time, but Rafael Devers couldn’t corral the ball and Caballero was safe at third with Siri sliding into second. The two runners in scoring position proved costly as Díaz followed with a single to left, scoring both runners.

“It sucks,” Weissert said. “Tanner battled his butt off today and to come in and not do the job feels terrible.”

The Red Sox had been playing better defensively of late, but two errors on the night, the other from first baseman Garrett Cooper in the fourth, proved the difference in the game.

On double-steal, Cora hoped Weissert would have been more mindful of holding Caballero at second.

“The one that we have to be better at is the running game,” Cora said. “I think we had the shot at third but still he was right in front of us and you step off, make him stop or do something else. If we get him out or slow him down, we’d probably still be playing right now.”

The Red Sox offense showed early life when Jarren Duran hit a leadoff double in the first, moved over on a fly out and scored on a Wong sacrifice fly.

But the Rays evened it in the fourth. A leadoff walk from Houck proved costly, but Houck’s defense didn’t help either. An infield single went under Devers glove, but was ruled a hit. Then Cooper had the error at first base on a ball that glanced past his glove into right field and scored a run.

“I probably should have charged it more,” Cooper said. “It took a late hop and hit something and it kind of bounced the other way. I have made that play 10 million times at first. I played the hop and it kind of ate me up.”

The Red Sox battled back again with a solo homer from Wilyer Abreu to make it 2-1. Abreu had been hitting . 212 with a .697 OPS this month. But then the Rays took the 4-2 lead in the sixth on the Devers error. A solo homer from Devers in the bottom of the sixth wasn’t enough to help the team.

Houck allowed three runs, one earned, on five hits and three walks while striking out seven over 5 2/3 innings. He’d pitched six innings or more in five straight starts, but with the pitch count climbing Cora knew he could only ask for so much from Houck.

“There’s a fine line between giving them a chance to get six and me being responsible for their health and you have to be very careful,” Cora said. “We liked that match up with Weissert in that spot against Siri, it just didn’t happen… I’ve got a job here that is to win every game possible, but also make sure they stay heathy.”

Cora suggested the Red Sox had planned to give Houck an extra day’s rest before his next start and that factored into the decision to let him pitch deeper.

Despite four runs scored, the Red Sox offense had other chance to add against a pesky Rays team. They struck out nine times and went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

“We have gone through a rough stretch,” Cooper said. “The few weeks I’ve been here it’s not the best with runners in scoring position. You just have to ride the waves in this game and we have to come back and try and attack it again tomorrow.”

(Photo of David Hamilton: Brian Fluharty / Getty Images)

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