Tyler O’Neill’s 10th homer not enough as Red Sox fall to Rays

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BOSTON — A year ago, Kutter Crawford threw six innings or more in just six of his 23 starts.

Through nine starts this season, Crawford has already logged six starts of six innings or more.

The Boston Red Sox fell 5-3 to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday, their first of seven games against the Rays over the next 10 days. And while a rocky first inning put the Red Sox in an early deficit, that Crawford was able to rebound and pitch six innings, keeping the Red Sox in the game, marked another stepping stone in what’s been an impressive season for the 28-year-old.

“Those are the outings last year, that game would have been 4 2/3 innings, six or seven runs and put us in a bad spot for the rest of the series,” manager Alex Cora said.

Crawford needed 35 pitches to get through the first, most of which were made with two outs. Yandy Díaz led off with a single before Crawford got two outs then ran into trouble beginning with a walk to Harold Ramirez. Amed Rosario rocketed a ball to center and Ceddanne Rafaela made a valiant effort with a leaping dive, but the ball clanged off the end of his glove for a triple, scoring two runs. A walk and a single brought in a third run.

“The two-out walk was the icing on the cake as far as getting myself in trouble,” Crawford said. “I felt like they were kind of taking my spin, waiting for me on the outside half of the plate, leaning out there and shooting stuff the other way. I think it all kind of started with just falling behind.”

After Crawford finally escaped the 35-pitch inning, the most pitches any Red Sox pitcher had thrown in an inning this year, the offense bailed him out.

Tyler O’Neill, who entered the game 7-for-44 (.159) in his previous 12 games, came to the plate in the first with two on and two out after a Wilyer Abreu single and Rafael Devers double, and he turned a 3-0 deficit into a tie game. O’Neill has mostly hit in the three-hole this season and had only hit as low as fifth three other times, but Cora opted to slide him into the fifth spot to help take the pressure off, batting Connor Wong third. It resulted in O’Neill’s best offensive day in weeks.

Before the game, when discussing the lineup adjustment, Cora noted O’Neill had been trying to do too much at the plate.

“If he stays on the fastball to right center, then breaking balls, he’s going to catch up and be able to hit to left field,” Cora said.

“I always tell all the new guys here, Manny (Ramirez) used to say, ‘The wall is your friend, you don’t have to go get the wall. The wall is there,’” Cora said. “If you stay on pitches, you’re going to mis-hit balls and they’re going off the wall. So just a reminder, you can’t get pull happy at this stadium.”

O’Neill seemed to take note of the advice, demolishing a 1-2 curveball from Rays starter Zach Eflin into the Monster seats to tie the game. It marked his 10th homer of the season.

“I’ve still been barreling the ball but just frustrated that I keep yanking it foul,” O’Neill said. “So just trying to set my sights to the bigger part of the field and use the whole field. I feel like I was doing a better job of that today and put some better swings on it today.”

But it was all the offense the Red Sox could muster.

Crawford, for his part, settled down and kept the Red Sox in the game. After the laborious first he needed just 11 pitches in the second and 13 in the third. The Rays got another run off Crawford in the fourth on a double and sacrifice fly, but the right-hander powered through six innings, striking out his final batter on his 101st pitch.

He finished with four runs allowed on seven hits and a walk while striking out six over six innings. It was his worst start of the year and yet still gave the Red Sox a chance.

“It’s still frustrating having a first inning like that but for me at that point I got to try to do everything I can to not get in the bullpen in the game in the fourth inning,” he said. “It makes it a little bit easier to lay my head down at night being able to go six, but still still frustrated.”

(Photo of O’Neill: David Butler II / USA Today)

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