Rays see lead in AL East dwindle

Rays see lead in AL East dwindle

BOSTON -- Monday night's game had a familiar theme when the Rays took yet another loss at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox took the game, 3-0, in front of a sellout crowd of 37,662, handing the Rays their fourth consecutive defeat and their sixth loss in seven games since the calendar turned to September.

Tampa Bay's lead in the American League East is now just a half-game over second-place Boston. Combined with Sunday's 1-0 loss to the Blue Jays, the Rays were shut out in consecutive games for the first time since April 28-29, 2004, when they were blanked in back-to-back games at -- where else? -- Fenway Park.

In defeat, the Rays fell to 85-57 on the season, including a 32-36 road mark. Tampa Bay and Boston have played 13 games this season and the home team has won in each of the contests. Meanwhile, the Rays have lost nine straight games at Fenway Park.

"I wish I knew [why we can't seem to win at Fenway Park]," Rocco Baldelli said. "I think there's probably something to it. I think both teams play especially well at their home parks. That's pretty much it. No team likes coming in here to play the Red Sox. No team probably wants to come to the Trop and face us. That's the reality of it, I think."

B.J. Upton suggested that "maybe both teams like playing at home."

"This is a tough place to play, and playing at the Trop is a tough place to play, too," said Upton, who had to leave the game due to a strained left quadriceps. "Hopefully we can get these next two, and then move on and look forward to the next series."

But winning at Fenway is important.

"If we want to get to where we want to be, we definitely have to win here," Upton said. "I mean, if we were to make it to the playoffs, I'm sure we'd meet these guys and we'd have to play here. It's something we have to learn to do and hopefully it's the next two days."

While Fenway feels like a haunted house to the Rays, Red Sox starter Jon Lester had a lot more to do with Tampa Bay losing Monday night than being cursed in a place once known for cursing the home team.

Lester started for the Red Sox, holding the Rays scoreless on six hits in 7 2/3 innings worked to pick up his 14th win of the season.

The Rays mounted two legitimate threats against Lester. The first of the threats came in the sixth, when they had runners on first and second with one out. But Lester rallied to retire Carlos Pena on a fly out to center field before striking out Baldelli to end the inning.

In the eighth, Ben Zobrist singled with two outs and went to third on Pena's ground-rule double to chase Lester. Jonathan Papelbon took over and struck out Baldelli for the third out.

"[It was the] first time I've faced [Lester]," said Baldelli, who went 0-for-3 against Lester, striking out three times. "I was impressed by him, and he pitched a great game. He did pretty much what we expected him to do from looking at him on film and stuff. He really executed his pitches -- he has really good stuff.

"He throws hard. He locates his fastball on both sides of the plate. He throws the cutter and the curveball. That's pretty much it on the short. That was enough for him tonight."

Edwin Jackson started for the Rays and got off to a less-than-auspicious beginning, when he surrendered three runs in the first inning. But he did not allow another run in seven-plus innings while taking his 10th loss of the season.

"I never found my comfort level [in the first inning]," Jackson said. "After that I calmed down, settled down. ... First inning, I was kind of in a rush. Maybe it was adrenalin. After that, it was try to come down and be normal and control the game and not let it control me."

While Jackson managed to gather himself, the offense never got on track, leaving eight runners on base.

"We've had so many games where people have just come through in the right spot," Baldelli said. "We've had timely hitting all year, this last week we just haven't when you get right down to it. I think every guy could probably look in the mirror and say they've had an opportunity to help late in the game. Sometimes it just doesn't work out. That's how it works."

Despite how the Rays look outside their clubhouse, there does not seem to be any panic inside of it.

"The good thing is there's a lot of baseball to be left to play, and we're in a good position right now," Upton said. "If we don't let it get out of hand, we'll be OK."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.