For all of this season and the last, manager Joe Maddon has harped on how he wants to have a "formulaic" bullpen. The idea being that if a starter can give the team six or more innings, the Rays would have go-to guys in the bullpen to nail down the win.
But on Tuesday night, the final ingredient to the formula came up missing, when the normally dependable Al Reyes didn't get the job done, sending the Rays reeling to their third consecutive loss, a hurtful 2-1 defeat to the American League East-leading Red Sox in front of 36,837 at Fenway Park.
Reyes came on in the ninth inning hoping to preserve a 1-0 lead. And despite his recent performances, which have seen him allow 10 hits and five earned runs in his last nine innings, Reyes looked sharp when he struck out Manny Ramirez looking to start the frame. But the closer then fell behind, 2-0, to Mike Lowell. On the next pitch, Reyes didn't put the ball where he wanted to, and Lowell hit a fastball over the Green Monster to tie the score.
"I tried to go with a fastball down and away," Reyes said. "And the ball stayed up and over the plate."
One out later, Jason Varitek doubled, and he scored the winning run on Coco Crisp's single to right field.
Reyes' second blown save of the season felt as though someone had sprayed graffiti over a masterpiece by budding left-handed artist Scott Kazmir.
Kazmir left the game after 95 pitches and six innings. During that stint, he allowed no runs on four hits and three walks, and struck out eight to record his seventh consecutive quality start while lowering his ERA since the All-Star break to 1.01.
"It's just the way it goes," Kazmir said. "[The Red Sox] can always come back and get you, like they did tonight."
The Rays also got nice efforts from Gary Glover and Dan Wheeler, who held the Red Sox scoreless in the seventh and eighth, respectively, before handing the lead to Reyes.
The formula "was lined up," Maddon said. "Glove came in ... it was all lined up ... Glover, then Danny, then of course Al at the end. And after striking out Ramirez to start off the ninth, it obviously was looking fairly decent at that point. Lowell has had a great year for them, and hits it far and keeps it fair. They do it to a lot of different people, and they did it to us tonight."
Rays hitters remained in a cold spell that has seen them score just two runs in the last 30 innings.
Tampa Bay scored its only run in the fourth. Carl Crawford doubled to lead off the inning, getting the Rays' first hit off Red Sox starter Jon Lester, and B.J. Upton's single advanced him to third. Carlos Pena's sacrifice fly scored Crawford to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.
They had a chance to add runs in the eighth when Boston elected to walk Crawford to load the bases with two outs and brought in Mike Timlin to pitch to Upton. Timlin won the battle by striking out Upton swinging at a fastball out of the strike zone to end the threat.
"We have been facing some good pitching," said Jonny Gomes, who had one of the Rays' four hits. "But I think our bats are better than what they have been the last 18-plus innings. And [the pitching goes] out there and competes, gets those big guys out, the middle-of-the-lineup guys. It's our job to put some runs on the board. They're definitely doing their job, and we're not coming through as hitters."
In losing Monday and Tuesday night's games, the Rays squandered quality starts by their one-two punch of Kazmir and James Shields, who allowed just one run in 12 innings in the series opener.
But rather than dwell on the negative, Maddon looked to the future.
"It's frustrating, but also, if you look at it, it bodes well for the future if you look at Kaz and Shields coming into this ballpark and pitching at the level that they have over the last two nights," he said. "You can just mentally visualize that over the course of the next two years, as they gain even more maturity and experience, how good they both can be.
"We just stopped hitting. ... We stopped hitting in Texas, and we haven't hit here yet. [We] came out of a tough series in Detroit, and the last two series, we haven't been hitting."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.