The pitching matchup between the Rays' Scott Kazmir and the Red Sox's Daisuke Matsuzaka almost managed to live up to the lofty expectations, only Kazmir suffered a brief hiccup. The Japanese import did not, allowing no runs on four hits while walking one and striking out nine in eight innings to earn his 10th victory of the season.
"I didn't know [Matsuzaka] was that much of a breaking ball pitcher," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He just adds and subtracts. He's a mathematician with his breaking ball."
Jonny Gomes, who had one of the Rays' hits against Matsuzaka, complimented the Red Sox right-hander but didn't find him overpowering.
"The name of the game as a pitcher, you can get away without throwing strikes, and some other stuff, but the name of the game is keeping hitters off-balance," Gomes said. "And that's what he did.
"I don't think he had anything overpowering, like a closer's fastball. Something like, really filthy, like a real dirty split-finger. But with his five, six, seven eight pitches, whatever he's got, he was just keeping us off-balance. You can't go up there sitting on a pitch, because he's got so many and he throws so many for strikes."
Rays third baseman Akinori Iwamura and Matsuzaka met for the fourth time in their careers -- they played in different leagues in Japan -- and Iwamura had a double and three strikeouts against his countryman. But Iwamura did not like the strike zone of home-plate umpire Paul Nauert.
"The plate umpire took everything away," said Iwamura through his translator.
Kazmir began the game looking every bit up for the challenge of facing Matsuzaka when he set the Red Sox down in order in the first inning.
"The way [Kazmir] began tonight, I thought he was gonna be all in the zone, nice and fluid, boom-boom," Maddon said.
Then came the second inning, when Kazmir walked the first three batters he faced.
"Once you get in a ball mode, it's tough to get out," Kazmir said. "I just had to bear down and throw it down the middle."
Which he did, getting Jason Varitek to ground to second base. Ty Wigginton bobbled what might have been a double play but threw out Varitek at first while the Red Sox's first run scored.
Kazmir recovered to strike out Wily Mo Pena for the second out to bring up former Rays shortstop Julio Lugo, who had not had a base hit in his previous 33 at-bats dating back to a single on June 14. But Lugo delivered, squeaking a single up the middle to score two and put the Red Sox up 3-0.
"Take away the second inning, it would be a whole different ballgame," Kazmir said. "But I feel like there are a lot of things I can take from this game. Like, I got my slider back. That felt very comfortable for me. We're going through a rut right now and we have to get out of it. It's frustrating for the whole team. But Dice-K pitched a great game and hats off to him."
Kazmir allowed an unearned run in his sixth and final inning to leave the game trailing, 4-0. The Rays left-hander allowed four runs -- three earned -- on six hits and struck out six in six innings while taking his fifth loss against five wins on the season.
Carlos Pena provided the Rays' only offense with his 19th home run of the season, a solo shot in the ninth off All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon.
The Rays currently are in the midst of their longest losing streak since losing nine straight from Sept. 10-19, 2006. When asked if he had any answers for righting the Rays' losing streak, Maddon had just one comment: "Just start hitting. Start hitting, baby."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.