BOSTON -- For the Red Sox, who are trying to get out of last place in the American League East, the immediate goal is modest. If they can just get above .500, maybe then they can start to get somewhere.
But that quest again eluded manager Bobby Valentine's team on Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park, this time in heartbreaking fashion.
With the Sox just two outs from victory, Alfredo Aceves had bad timing in suffering his first blown save since April 21. Sean Rodriguez belted Aceves' 3-1 fastball over the Green Monster in the top of the ninth, leading the Rays to a 4-3 win in the rubber match of the three-game series.
The Sox are now 0-5 in games that would give them a chance to get above .500. This is the longest a Boston team has played without topping the break-even point since 1996.
"It's frustrating for now, but it will happen," said Adrian Gonzalez. "[We have to] keep playing hard, get over that hump and keep going from there."
It was Gonzalez who had put Boston in position to win this one, ripping a three-run homer over the Monster in the bottom of the seventh that overturned Tampa Bay's two-run edge.
"That was just a changeup down that for once I was able to keep my head down and stay through," said Gonzalez. "I was able to stay behind it."
But Gonzalez's fourth home run of the season turned out not to be quite enough for Boston.
Just one day after Jarrod Saltalamacchia put Boston in the winners' circle with a walk-off homer off Rays closer Fernando Rodney, the Red Sox had the tables turned on them.
"Pretty close, and we let it get it away, though," said Valentine. "They were close yesterday and they let it get away. ... It was a close series."
Aceves had been dominant in converting his last nine save chances prior to this one, posting a 0.96 ERA over that span.
With Boston clinging to that one-run lead, Aceves got off to a bad start by walking Ben Zobrist to open the ninth. He retired Luke Scott on a popup but then fell behind, 3-1, to Rodriguez, who made him pay dearly.
Aceves had no interest in discussing his performance, leaving Fenway Park without comment.
"He just got behind on Zobrist and walked him -- pretty close pitch," Valentine said. "Obviously, he got behind on Rodriguez and threw a fastball that he hit over the fence. His control has been pinpoint -- those pitches were just a little off, I guess."
But even with the defeat, some good things happened.
Gonzalez has vowed that his power will resurface, as this was his fourth home run of the season, but it was easily the biggest.
"I've been having a consistent feel for two days," Gonzalez said. "The first two at-bats today were more bad game planning than anything. I kind of got myself out. If I have a good game plan, I'm able to execute it with the swing. I feel I should be able to have success, I just have to game plan it better."
Could the home run be the catalyst to start him hitting the way he did in 2011?
"Well, it was big," Valentine said. "It put us ahead. You know, if he gets on a roll, we could let him carry us for a while. It would be good to see him to that."
The other positive note was that this was Clay Buchholz's best start of the season. The righty was in line for the win but instead was left with a no-decision. He allowed eight hits but just two runs over seven innings, walking one and striking out six.
"The big thing was, I stayed out of the middle of the plate, for the most part," Buchholz said. "When I missed I missed off the plate, either away or in. I felt like I was able to throw almost all my pitches for strikes at some point during the game. I felt this good my past three starts, I just hadn't had the results."
Much as they do Gonzalez, the Red Sox need Buchholz performing at a high level to get where they want to go. Even after this performance, he still has a 7.19 ERA.
"He had a really good changeup," Valentine said. "His fastball was explosive. I was very encouraged. He looked good. He gave up that second run, and he was still throwing pretty good, I guess. I thought we were going to pull that one out and get him what he deserved -- I thought he deserved a win today."
For the second day in a row, a crisp pitching duel unfolded at Fenway, this time between Buchholz and Jeremy Hellickson. The Rays were able to get one run off Buchholz in the fourth, though they had some help from Boston's defense. Matt Joyce ripped a one-out double into the corner in right, but Gonzalez's throw from right sailed over the head of cutoff man Dustin Pedroia, allowing Joyce to reach third. Joyce wound up scoring on a groundout by Zobrist.
"That one you're basically throwing to an area," Gonzalez said. "You pick up the cutoff man, but you know the runner is thinking [triple]. So if I grab and take a look at my target, set my feet, make a good throw to Pedey, it might give him a couple of steps. In my mind I had to grab it and throw it in, so I did. Unfortunately, because of where I was, I threw it across my body, and that's what made it cut. It wasn't a horrible throw, but it cut enough away from him that it went off the tip of his glove."
Gonzalez -- who is filling in as a right fielder while the Red Sox deal with a barrage of injuries in the outfield -- later made amends for his defensive miscue with that three-run bomb.
Other than Gonzo's home run, the Red Sox struggled to get anything established against Hellickson. Over the first six innings, Boston mustered four hits -- all of them singles.
The Rays tacked on a run in the seventh on an RBI single by Will Rhymes.
And even when the Red Sox came back, the Rays had the last laugh on their way out of town.
"We know exactly how they feel today based on last night," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "It's not a great feeling."