Sox Squander Lead -- Are Swept by Tampa Bay
By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / July 3, 2008
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - For three straight nights, it was easy to forget that this is still a place with a fish tank in center field, as opposed to the next stop on the Red Sox' itinerary, the one with the hallowed monuments.
No one has yet to be awarded the World Series trophy by the Fourth of July. Sox fans need only recall 2006, when Boston led the Yankees by four games on the Fourth and not only failed to win the division, but missed the postseason altogether. More recently, the four leading playoff contenders in the National League on the Fourth last season - the Mets, Brewers, Padres, and Dodgers - all failed to qualify for the tournament.
Still, the Tampa Bay Rays, the team that doesn't have a single player leading the American League in dangling chads on the All-Star ballot, served notice yet again to the Sox that they are a team not to be taken lightly, especially under the big Trop.
Before a cowbell-waving sellout crowd of 36,048, Boston was swept by the Rays, losing its fifth straight game, 7-6, despite four extra-base hits by Dustin Pedroia, who had a home run, triple, and two doubles in becoming the first Sox second baseman to pull off that feat, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Rays are 20 games over .500 for the first time in franchise history (52-32). Last season after 84 games, they were 18 under .500. The Sox, who began this trip in first place, head to the Bronx 3 1/2 games behind the Rays, closer Jonathan Papelbon never getting out of the bullpen after vowing that some scores still needed to be settled after last month's brawl.
"They took it to us," said manager Terry Francona, whose team has not beaten the Rays in six tries under a Teflon sky this season. "They beat us three games in a row. We came here to win, and we didn't do a very good job."
The Rays, trailing, 4-1, scored six times in the seventh, reliever Manny Delcarmen's failure to cover first base on an infield hit touching off an avalanche of base runners. "When you see me out in the field that much," said Francona, who made three trips to the mound to change pitchers that inning, while the Rays sent 11 men to the plate, "you know something's not going right.
Delcarmen had given up a leadoff double to Jason Bartlett, who stole third. The Sox reliever then broke belatedly from the mound when Akinori Iwamura hit a ground ball to the right of first baseman Kevin Youkilis.