Playing their ninth consecutive game away from Tropicana Field, the Rays ran into stellar pitching from left-hander Jon Lester in the Boston Red Sox's 12-2 victory in Game 1 of this American League Division Series. The eighth-year veteran only allowed two runs and three hits in 7 2/3 innings (seven strikeouts) while the Red Sox cruised behind a five-run fourth inning.
Here are a few thoughts on a night when Boston took a 1-0 lead in this best-of-five series ...
1. Matt Moore's day unraveled quickly.
The 17-win left-hander started well, facing no more than five batters in each of the first three innings before running into trouble in the fourth. We'll address Wil Myers' mishap shortly, but Moore made plenty of mistakes of his own in this critical inning.
The total damage: five runs and six hits. Moore didn't receive help with other defensive breakdowns in this stretch, such as Sean Rodriguez's misplay of a liner off the Green Monster, Jose Lobaton's muffing of a swinging strikeout and the late throw from James Loney when Moore tried to cover first base on what should have been an easy groundout.
Still, the sudden about-face in Moore's mastery of Boston was startling. (He entered 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in two starts against the Red Sox this season.) Those miscues can't happen against Boston's potent lineup, and the errors proved costly; the Red Sox stole momentum after Tampa Bay had gained a 2-0 lead following a pair of homers from Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist.
By his day's end, Moore had allowed seven earned runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings. The biggest dent happened in a fourth to forget.
2. It was odd to see Myers have such trouble in right field.
Whatever the reason for his misplay in the fourth, the situation was another example of how this Red Sox lineup can't be given extra life at anytime.
To recap: Dustin Pedroia led off with a single to right field. Then David Ortiz hit a catchable fly ball to deep right, where the rookie appeared to call off Desmond Jennings but inexplicably pulled up at the last moment. The ball bounced behind him and over the wall for a ground rule double, sending Pedroia to third.
Two batters later, Jonny Gomes cracked a double to left-center field to begin the five-run rally.
Myers has had some "learning experience" moments in the outfield since his call-up in June, and this sequence was another. It's hard to blame Boston's surge on him alone -- after all, Tampa Bay's defense was sloppy in a variety of areas -- but it's not a stretch to say the Rays' deficit would have been more manageable had Myers fielded Ortiz's hit.
3. How about Rodriguez's display of power in the second?
He smashed a 389-foot solo home run to left-center field, which was the first hit off Lester after the pitcher had struck out four of the first five batters he faced.
Rodriguez was 5 for 24 with four RBI against Lester before the at-bat. The utility player had 27 plate appearances in September, but he didn't play in the wild-card victory over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday.
We didn't see Rodriguez go deep often this season -- he entered with five homers and hadn't hit one out since a Sept. 18 victory over the Texas Rangers -- but his strong swing Friday was a notable moment for him.
4. The result was excusable.
Losing the opener at Fenway Park is no end of the world. Sure, the Rays had been hot lately, and yes, they should have liked their chances with Moore on the mound, given his history against the Red Sox this season. But after a wild stretch that included must-win scenarios in Toronto, Texas and Cleveland since last Sunday, a letdown Friday was possible.
Of course, a two-run, four-hit performance can't be repeated if the Rays have aspirations of reaching the American League Championship Series for the first time since they appeared in the World Series in 2008.
The road ahead won't be simple, because the Red Sox send another formidable starter in right-hander John Lackey to the mound Saturday. But the Rays should rest easy Friday night knowing they have something that has been elusive lately: A margin for error.
5. David Price's start Saturday has become large.
The ace was impressive in going the distance against Texas on Monday, and he must have his best stuff to muzzle an offense that has scored no fewer than five runs in the Red Sox's past five games. (Boston has scored 12 or more runs three times in that span.)
Price is 2-2 with a 2.48 ERA in five starts against the Red Sox this season, and he's 2-0 with a 1.21 ERA in three appearances at Fenway Park. Tampa Bay needs at least one victory on the road to make this best-of-five series manageable when it changes venue Monday to Tropicana Field.
Time to go to work, David.
Next up: LH David Price (10-8, 3.33 ERA) vs. RH John Lackey (10-13, 3.52 ERA), 5:37 p.m. Saturday, Fenway Park