ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays got what they wanted Tuesday from rookie starter Austin Pruitt, who held the Red Sox to one measly run over six innings.
But the problem was that the Rays couldn't get anything besides a couple of singles off Sox ace Chris Sale and closer Craig Kimbrel, losing the showdown series opener 2-0.
Of greater concern to the Rays than dropping to 58-56 and 6½ games back in the American League East race has to be the ongoing absence of their offense, though at least it's understandable against Boston's dynamic duo.
But since returning from Houston, the Rays have been shut out in three of four games and scored only two runs in the other, Sunday's walkoff win over the Brewers.
Pruitt again proved the Rays' trust wise in holding the Red Sox to one run over six innings, scattering seven hits and one costly walk, before 22,328 fans.
Not only did the Rays have the usually arduous task of facing Sale, and at the Trop, where he typically pitches well, but of doing so when he was even more ornery, coming off a rough outing against the Indians when he was knocked out after five innings, having allowed seven runs.
Unsurprisingly, their night didn't start well with 10 up and 10 down — five on strikeouts, nothing hit hard. A throwing error by rookie third baseman Rafael Devers allowed the Rays' first baserunner with one out in the fourth. Then after three more outs — and two more Ks — the Rays at least prevented infamy as Wilson Ramos singled to center for their first hit.
Pruitt was impressive in pitching his way out of what trouble he had, though his one walk, to Dustin Pedroia leading off the fourth, and a moment of hesitation on a comebacker cost him.
The Pedroia walk and Andrew Benintendi's single put two Sox on. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria had a tough task fielding Mookie Betts' grounder and got only the out at second. Pruitt then got a comebacker from Devers, but he slipped before fielding it. Rather than throw home to get Pedroia, he tried for the double play, and that didn't work as his throw to second was too wide for Hechavarria to turn two.
After Jose Alvarado got one out and Sergio Romo got five, Ryne Stanek allowed three hits and another run in the ninth.
Even though it is still early August, and they still have six more games in September with the Red Sox, the Rays considered this a big series.
"You win the series, you pick up couple games, you sweep the series and you're right back in the divisional hunt," veteran third baseman Evan Longoria said before the game. "They're going good right now, they're riding a high, how many have they won, seven out of eight? (In fact, seven games in a row.) We've been playing better as of late, we started off the road trip not very good and got a little bit better as the last week and a half has progressed."
And he was hoping for some help from the fans.
"We're definitely looking forward to it," Longoria said. "Hopefully there is a lot of energy in the building tonight. This is the time that we need to go.
"Coming off an off day, we had a long stretch there (of 17 straight days where) we played some tough games, and I think we were a little bit run down toward the end of it. We got a big pick-me-up win at the end of it (Sunday on Steven Souza Jr.'s walkoff homer). Hopefully this off day reenergizes us and we can get on a nice little run."
The day started with a step back for the Rays, as veteran Alex Cobb, their winningest starter, was placed on the disabled due to a toe problem — technically turf toe in the big one on his right foot — that will sideline him for 10 days.
That with backdating to Sunday he will kind of only miss one start, planning to return next Wednesday in Toronto, makes it not so bad. That Cobb, in his first full season coming off May 2015 Tommy John elbow surgery, had already thrown 147 innings and was on pace for 200-plus, could even — hmm, coincidentally, I'm sure — make the break a good thing.
But the reality is that Blake Snell, having just been demoted to Triple A for the second time this season, is back and starts Thursday against the Indians.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.