ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Alex Cora saw the difference between the Rays and his Red Sox when the former took three out of four at Fenway Park in early June.
“Right now, they’re better than us,” the manager said then, also including the Yankees and Astros in that belief. “And we’ve got to keep getting better.”
The Red Sox, though, never got better. And as they took a huge step back in an underwhelming season that will end with this Sunday’s regular-season finale, they were never any match for the playoff-bound teams in their division.
This past weekend put a bow on that. Behind three fourth-inning homers, the Rays won another series against the Red Sox, taking three out of four at Tropicana Field with a 7-4 victory on Monday night. The Rays, who moved a half-game up on the Indians for the second wild-card spot, drew just 8,779 fans for the game.
With the loss, the Red Sox (81-75) finished 7-12 this season against the Rays. They went 5-14 against the Yankees, making for a .316 winning percentage against the two teams above them in the AL East.
The Red Sox were actually cruising and looked to be on their way to a series split, jumping out to a 4-0 lead behind an RBI double from Jackie Bradley Jr. — his second extra-base hit in as many days — and RBI singles from Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez.
Then the fourth inning happened.
Jhoulys Chacin no-hit the Rays through 3⅓ innings — which included a four-pitch second inning — but it quickly unraveled for the veteran right-hander. He gave up back-to-back singles to Austin Meadows and Travis d’Arnaud before Ji-Man Choi smashed a mislocated slider to center for a three-run homer.
Two batters later, he served up a solo shot to Brandon Lowe, and he quickly got the hook from Cora.
Bobby Poyner couldn’t do much better, though, hitting Kevin Kiermaier with a pitch before Willy Adames had no problem blasting an 88 mph fastball to the left-field seats.
The six-run fourth was all the Rays needed. They added another in the sixth when Avisail Garcia doubled to the right-field corner, but Mookie Betts made one of the Red Sox’ plays of the year as he tried to stretch it to a triple. Betts fired the ball from the warning track in the corner and made a perfect throw to Devers to gun down Garcia.