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Red Sox vs. Rays: Five takeaways as Tampa Bay reclaims first place in the AL East with a walk-off win

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Thursday night, the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox wrapped up their three-game series at Tropicana Field with a classic pitchers duel that featured a no-hitter watch and several stellar defensive plays. Ultimately, the Rays walked off with a 1-0 win (box score) because Boston’s defense crumbled in the ninth inning.

Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s night’s thrilling game between the two AL East rivals.

The Red Sox took a no-hitter into the eighth

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Boston flirted with history much of the game. Righty Nick Pivetta started and kept the Rays out of the hit column for 6 2/3 innings before giving way to the bullpen. Lefty Josh Taylor got the final out of the seventh, then fellow lefty Darwinzon Hernandez allowed Tampa’s first hit with one out in the eighth. Kevin Kiermaier slapped a hustle double the other way.

“(Pulling Pivetta) wasn’t tough,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters after the game, including Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. “It was a 0-0 game. We had one of the best lefties in the game.” 

Pivetta was the first Red Sox pitcher to get through six no-hit innings since rotation-mate Martín Pérez last Sept. 2. Speier says Pivetta is the first BoSox pitcher to be pulled at least five innings into a no-hitter since Ernie Shore way back on Oct. 2, 1916. Babe Ruth and Shore threw the first combined no-hitter in MLB history on June 23, 1917.

Corey Kluber, John Means, Wade Miley, Joe Musgrove, Carlos Rodón, and Spencer Turnbull have thrown MLB’s six no-hitters this season. Madison Bumgarner threw an unofficial seven no-hitter in a doubleheader game as well.

Both teams made great defense plays

Although the Red Sox made costly defensive mistakes in the ninth (more on that in a bit), both teams turned stellar defensive plays throughout the game. First, Hunter Renfroe kept the no-hit bid alive with a lunging catch in right to take extra bases away from Ji-Man Choi in the fifth inning. Statcast says the liner had an 89 chance to fall for a hit based on the exit velocity and launch angle.

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Then, in the seventh inning, Kiermaier threw Renfroe out at home to keep the game scoreless. Renfroe doubled earlier in the inning, and he tried to score when Christian Vázquez dunked a single to shallow center. Renfroe held up just a little bit make sure the ball fell in, and that hesitation cost him. The Red Sox challenged the out call at the plate, but replay confirmed it.

Beyond those two plays, you also had Brandon Lowe making a nifty snag at second base and Vázquez catching a popup while falling over the ball boy’s chair in foul territory. Wander Franco also make a sweet spinning play at shortstop, where he will play for the foreseeable future now that Taylor Walls is on the injured list with a wrist issue.

Great defense is nothing new for the Rays. They lead all teams with plus-57 defensive runs saved this season. The Red Sox are middle of the pack with plus-13 defensive runs saved overall, though their outfield has shined with plus-11 defensive runs saved. The infield hasn’t been quite as strong.

The Rays won on two mistakes

As Pivetta and four relievers flirted with a no-hitter, five Rays pitchers matched them on the scoreboard. Michael Wacha started and shut the Red Sox down across five innings. Drew Rasmussen, Ryan Thompson, Matt Wisler, and JP Feyereisen then came out of the bullpen to put up zeroes. All told, Tampa’s pitchers allowed four hits and struck out 10 on Thursday.

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The Rays finally broke the scoreless tie with two outs in the ninth. Manuel Margot shot a ground ball single through the left side, then stole second base and advanced to third when Vázquez’s throw sailed into center field. Margot then scored the winning run when Matt Barnes spiked a curveball that got away from Vázquez for a walk-off wild pitch.

Vázquez had a rough game Thursday even though he went 2-for-3 and stole a base. In the seventh, he got picked off second base to end the inning, and then in the ninth he had the throwing error and the wild pitch. It was a wild pitch, so it was Barnes’ fault, but I’m guessing Vázquez would tell you he thinks he should’ve kept the ball in front of him.

The 1-0 win was Tampa’s third 1-0 win of the season, tied with the Nationals for the most in baseball. The Red Sox lost a 1-0 game for the first time since April 2, 2019, when Athletics righty Mike Fiers and three relievers shut them down.

Franco struck out three times

For the first time in his professional career, Franco struck out three times in a single game Thursday. Only five times in 214 minor league games did he strike out twice in a game. So that’s zero three-strikeout games in 214 minor league games and one three-strikeout game in three MLB games. This sport will humble you quick.

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Franco went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s game and is 2-for-11 (.182) with three walks and four strikeouts in three games since being called up earlier this week. He had a home run and a double in his first game, and is hitless since. Franco will get back into the hit column soon enough. I’m sure of it.

The Rays are back in first place

Thanks to their recent seven-game losing streak, the Rays slid into second place behind the Red Sox in the AL East earlier this week. They’d been in sole possession of first place since May 24. Wins on Wednesday and Thursday moved Tampa back into first place, however. They’re a half-game up on the BoSox.

The Rays will look to extend their AL East lead during a three-game series against Shohei Ohtani’s Angels at Tropicana Field this weekend. The Red Sox are heading home to Fenway Park for a three-game series against the rival Yankees.

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