The Rays yielded 13 runs in the fourth through six innings, and 11 total after the early departure of starter Andy Sonnanstine, in a 16-10 loss. Until Juan Salas entered to put the brakes on a six-run Red Sox sixth, four Tampa Bay pitchers had given up 16 hits in just five innings of work.
"We just did not pitch well today," manager Joe Maddon said.
The effort wasted another strong performance by the Rays' offense, which has led the Majors in runs, home runs and slugging since Aug. 24. Eighteen hits in a loss tied a club record, previously done on June 21, 2005, against the Yankees.
And they did most of their damage against Tim Wakefield, whose 19-2 career record and 2.72 ERA in 188 1/3 innings against Tampa Bay is unmatched by any pitcher in baseball.
"I think we were bound to run into a few," said second baseman Brendan Harris. "I think it was just the law of probability that we'd put a few more bats on the ball."
The Rays applied the offensive pressure early and often in their best performance against Wakefield. Harris led off the second inning by lacing a solo home run, his 11th, into the second row of seats above the Green Monster. By the end of the inning, Tampa Bay had scored four runs on five hits.
"It catches you off guard when he gives you something you can hit," Harris said. "And I think we just kind of made the most of those balls."
Three of the Rays' four runs in the fourth came against the 41-year-old Red Sox knuckleballer. Dioner Navarro and Akinori Iwamura both doubled, and slugger Carlos Pena greeted reliever Kyle Snyder by cracking his 39th blast, a three-run shot, into the center-field bleachers. Tampa Bay left the field after the top of the fourth with an 8-1 lead.
Boston roared back, working a procession of walks and hits against Sonnanstine and the Tampa Bay 'pen. Five singles, a walk and a sacrifice fly were all the Red Sox needed to score four fourth-inning runs, answering the Rays by batting around and knocking Sonnanstine from the game.
"Whenever we get eight runs early, it's my job to protect that lead and get us back in the dugout," Sonnanstine said. "And tonight, I didn't do much of it."
The Sox added three more runs in the fifth, one on a double off the Green Monster by former Tampa Bay shortstop Julio Lugo. But it all fell apart after Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia led off the sixth with a solo shot over the Monster. Boston racked up eight more hits and one more walk in the sixth and seventh, including back-to-back home runs by David Ortiz and J.D. Drew off Salas, breaking open a 16-9 lead.
Like its offense, the Rays' bullpen had thrived during the team's 13-4 stretch since Aug. 24 by posting a 3.78 ERA. But on Tuesday night, the Red Sox ran through five Rays relievers, raising Tampa Bay's league-worst relief ERA of 6.02 to 6.18.
"I don't really know what to say," said right-hander Grant Balfour, who entered a 9-9 tie game in the sixth and was unable to retire a batter, while yielding four earned runs. "I'm frustrated."
"There's no excuse not to go out there and make good pitches and get guys out," he added.
Ultimately, Maddon said, the Rays were hamstrung by a truncated performance by Sonnanstine, the shortest of his rookie season. The 6-foot-3 right-hander labored through 80 pitches, 10 of them against the very first batter of the game, Jacoby Ellsbury, who nevertheless struck out swinging.
"That was quite a few pitches to start off the game," Sonnanstine said. "I was thinking about it a little bit early, and maybe I shouldn't have been."
"He was getting into too many deep counts," Maddon said. "He wasn't putting them away earlier in the count, which he normally does do."
Despite the loss, Tampa Bay still can win its first series at Fenway Park since 1999 with a victory on Wednesday.
"Our guys are playing at a high level right now," Maddon said. "We just had a bad pitching night."
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.