ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Long after another close-but-unfulfilling effort against the puzzle that is the Boston Red Sox, Ben Zobrist summed the reason for his recent hot hitting well: The right bounces matter.
Sometimes, those bounces do not translate to the scoreboard, as was the case for the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night. They lost to the Boston Red Sox 2-1 at Tropicana Field, their seventh defeat in nine tries this season against the American League East leader.
The loss, which dropped the Rays to 35-30, happened despite two positive developments: (a) Zobrist extending his hitting streak to a season-best nine games with a single to right field in the third inning and (b) Evan Longoria cracking his third home run in as many games, a 413-foot shot to center field in the sixth, after recording just one in his previous 26 contests combined.
“There have been a couple of those games where I haven’t necessarily swung it that well,” said Zobrist, who went 1 for 4 Wednesday. “It has just been finding holes somewhere. Like today, I chopped one over the first baseman’s head. I still would like to be hitting more line drives. But either way, it’s nice to continue to get hits.”
Zobrist, who has hit safely in 15 of his last 16 games, has seen a steady rise in his batting average. Since the current streak began on June 4 against the Detroit Tigers, his total has risen from .246 to .273. During the stretch, he has had two multiple-hit outings: A 3-for-5 showing in a victory over the Baltimore Orioles on June 8 and a 5-for-7 line in the 14-inning loss to the Red Sox on Monday.
Meanwhile, Longoria’s power display marked the first time in his career that he has hit home runs in each game of a three-game series. He joined Matt Joyce (from April 28-May 1) as the only Rays player to crack home runs in three consecutive games this season.
“Zo, you talk about where he had been really cold, now he’s gotten very hot,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “Great at-bats, tough at-bats, grinding them out like he normally does. And Longo, that ball was really well-struck tonight again. They did a nice job against us, because we have been scoring a lot of runs too. It was just a really well-played game. They’ve gotten us this year. They’ve gotten us in a lot of close games. We have to figure out a way to beat them.”
That’s a goal that remains largely elusive. In the eighth inning, Longoria had a chance to at least tie the score at 2 with Kelly Johnson on second base and two out. But the three-time All-Star struck out swinging. He slammed his bat and helmet near home plate in disgust.
“He doesn’t walk on water, but he’s pretty close,” Maddon said. “He has done a great job for us. It’s not going to happen all the time.”
For another night, the Red Sox remained a difficult challenge to solve.
But for another night, Zobrist and Longoria showed how valuable they can be.
“You’ve got to have guys in the top middle of the order do something,” said Johnson, who went 1 for 4. “In our offense, it’s not just a two-man show. I think Evan has been extremely consistent. … Our lineup really is a, ‘Who’s hot?’ being up in key situations kind of thing. It’s not something that’s leaned on in any particular spot.”