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07/01/08 12:13 AM ET

Sox stage late rally, but fall to Rays

With third straight loss, Boston 1 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG -- Just when it seemed the Red Sox were going to go quietly into the night at Tropicana Field, they nearly staged one of their finest comebacks of the season.

It was a catwalk of all things that made the finish so dramatic.

Down by three runs in the top of the ninth, the Sox cut the deficit to one and had the tying run 90 feet away, only to have the rally fall short when Julio Lugo lined out to shortstop to end a 5-4 loss to the Rays.

With two on and one out, Brandon Moss hit a fly ball to right field that appeared to be a routine out. However, the ball hit the B-ring catwalk and fell in for an RBI double. Jason Varitek hit a sacrifice fly to right, and suddenly, the Red Sox were within a single of tying the game.

"I wish maybe it would have caromed like crazy and Mossy could have gotten a triple and the sac fly would have tied the game," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who started the rally with a leadoff double against Troy Percival. "But it was one of those freak things. It actually helped us out, because I don't think the ball was going out of the park."

After Varitek's sacrifice fly, Sean Casey was just about ready to pinch-hit for Lugo. But Percival pulled up lame with a left hamstring injury and on came lefty J.P. Howell.

In stayed Lugo, who worked the count full before hitting a liner right at shortstop Jason Bartlett to end it.

"As much as I [complain] about these stadiums, it almost helped us win the game," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "It's awkward. I'm glad it did, but it's awkward."

What's no longer awkward is the fact that the Rays -- and not the Red Sox -- lead the American League East. Tampa Bay is no longer just a cute early-season story. They look like a team ready to make that next step to true contender.

"I'd be surprised if they're not in the hunt the whole way," said Lowell. "They have good pitching. Not to take away from their offense, but without pitching, you can't slug every night. Their pitching keeps them in games."

On Monday, the man who kept the Rays in it was Jason Shields, who earned the win by allowing five hits and two runs over 6 1/3 innings.

"As much as I [complain] about these stadiums, it almost helped us win the game. It's awkward. I'm glad it did, but it's awkward."
-- Terry Francona, on Brandon Moss' catwalk double

The home team has now won all 10 games between the American League East rivals this season. Boston trails first-place Tampa Bay by 1 1/2 games for the first time since June 2.

For all the talk about the bench-clearing fracas that occurred between the teams on June 5, none of that festered during what turned into an exciting game n Monday.

"Neither team wants that to be the focus," said Lowell. "We want to play good baseball. If both teams keep playing very good baseball, both teams are going to make the playoffs. I think that's so much more important than benches clearing a few weeks ago."

After winning the opener of this 10-game road trip at Houston, the Red Sox have lost three in a row.

With each loss, there has been a different culprit. This time, the biggest problem was the inconsistency of right-hander Justin Masterson, who has mostly sparkled since his callup from Triple-A.

It didn't take long for the Rays to jump on the board. Leadoff man B.J. Upton hit the first pitch from Masterson over the wall in center to make it 1-0.

"It was a fastball up and over the middle," said Masterson. "And it went over the fence. I don't really have much more to say about it."

While taking the loss, Masterson (4-2, 3.75 ERA) gave up five hits and four runs over six innings, walking five and striking out five.

The Red Sox didn't even get a baserunner against Shields (6 1/3 innings, five hits, two runs) in the first three innings, but rallied in the fourth. After a one-out single by Dustin Pedroia and a two-out walk from Manny Ramirez, Lowell drilled an RBI single to left to tie the game.

But the Rays stole the momentum right back in the bottom of the fourth. After a two-out walk to Dioner Navarro, Gabe Gross smashed a two-run homer to right.

June destroyer
With his home run on Monday, J.D. Drew produced the third June with at least 12 homers by a Red Sox, the first since Hall of Famer Ted Williams homered 13 times in June 1950.
14Jackie Jensen1958
13Ted Williams1950
12J.D. Drew2008

"Unfortunately, after we tied up the game, I've got to keep them from scoring in the bottom half of the inning, and I didn't do that part," Masterson said. "I put together a good effort there at the end. I thought we were going to tie it up. Unfortunately, we didn't."

And the misfire to Gross?

"It was a sinker," said Masterson. "I got behind in the count. It hurts you when you don't get ahead. That was one of those cases where I got behind in the count and he was able to sit and the sinker was right there for him."

Masterson again got himself into a trouble with a two-out walk in the fifth, this time to Willy Aybar. Carlos Pena followed with an RBI double to right, boosting the Tampa Bay lead to 4-1.

"Walks always come back to hurt you," said Masterson. "Unfortunately, it's just the case where I get two outs and I've been walking the guy. I don't feel like I'm changing the way I'm approaching the hitter, but unfortunately, that's the way it's been happening."

Thanks to J.D. Drew's 12th homer in June -- one more than he hit all of last season -- the Red Sox sliced the deficit to 4-2 in the top of the sixth.

However, the Rays again added on, thanks to control problems from Boston reliever Chris Smith, who walked the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh. Lefty Javy Lopez did his best to get the Sox out of the jam, but a fielder's-choice grounder by pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes made it 5-2.

"The thing we love with Smitty is he's going to go out and throw strikes," Francona said. "That's exactly what he didn't do. It was a good matchup for left-handed hitters because of his changeup, and he'll throw strikes. He got himself into a box in a hurry."

And just as quickly, the Red Sox nearly had themselves some last at-bat magic.

"We presented ourselves with an opportunity to win," said Varitek.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.