For the most part, Adrian Beltre took care of the final installment of the sweep by hitting two home runs and a two-run triple -- good for six RBIs -- to lead an 11-3 Red Sox win at Tropicana Field with 22,147 watching.
In defeat, the Rays took their third consecutive loss, they were swept for the first time this season, and they saw their Major League-best record fall to 32-15. Meanwhile, the Yankees won twice Wednesday to move within 3 1/2 games of the American League Eas tleaders, while the Red Sox, who arrived in St. Petersburg 8 1/2 games out of first, left trailing by just 5 1/2 games in the AL East.
"To think that we're going to go through the entire season without losing a couple of games in a row, that would be a very bad thought, because it's just not going to happen," manager Joe Maddon said. "Boston came in playing well.
"They had just played Philadelphia very well in Philadelphia, too, [and] they've gotten healthy. A couple of the guys who weren't swinging the bats well early on are swinging the bats well. ... They're not going away and we're not going away. And the Yankees aren't going away. Toronto's playing well. It's a tough division."
Matt Garza started for the Rays and appeared out of sync from the beginning, when he walked Marco Scutaro to start the game and issued another walk to David Ortiz before getting saved by a 5-4-3 double play.
Beltre hit the first of his two home runs in the second when he connected to lead off the inning. The next time Garza faced Beltre, the Red Sox third baseman stepped to the plate in the third with two aboard and drove the ball deep into the left-field stands for a 4-1 lead. Beltre added a two-run triple off Lance Cormier in the ninth to complete a substantial evening at the plate.
"That was nice," Beltre said. "It was nice to contribute to the team and make sure we got the sweep against the team that's basically in front of us and the team that we're chasing."
Garza had his worst start of the season, allowing a season-high six earned runs, three home runs and five walks as his ERA rose from 2.37 to 2.97.
"I don't know what happened. When they needed a big hit, they got it," Garza said. "I gave them five free bases and that's totally not me. [My] location was off.
"I pitch off my fastball, so if my fastball's not there, that's a problem. My breaking stuff, I threw well. They just got me. Beltre was a man on fire tonight. I really couldn't throw him anything. I threw him a breaking ball in the dirt and he hit the son-of-a-gun out. But what do you do? You just chalk it up as a rough one and come back and grind it out and get ready for five days."
While the Rays built their scorching start on the arms of their rotation, the Red Sox's starters managed to put a speed bump in Tampa Bay's runaway start with three consecutive quality starts.
Hidden in the fine print behind Beltre's assault was another strong outing by a Boston starter. John Lackey did his duty to complete a strong run of pitching performances during the series. Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and Lackey pitched like they were supposed to by allowing just three runs on 15 hits while striking out 18 in 18 1/3 innings.
"They did outpitch us, there's no question," Maddon said. "They did outpitch us in tight situations. They got the outs they needed, we did not. They got us this time.
"They have lock-down starters. Like I said, they're not going away. They're going to keep getting better. I know that. We all know that. So none of that was a surprise regarding how well they pitched."
Coming off a 4-1 road trip against the Yankees and Astros, the Rays felt good heading into this series, but it just didn't work out.
"Coming off the really good road trip, you wanted to come in here and win at least one, and hopefully two, so that part didn't meet up to expectations," Maddon said. "But we had just done the same thing to them up in Fenway. They returned the favor this time. But we're still one game up on them for the season. ... So just thank God it wasn't a four-game series."
So even though the Rays are off to the best start in baseball, May is a little early to start popping the corks on bottles of champagne.
"It's really inappropriate to do that," said Maddon, the twinkle in his eye and smile intact.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.