ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Junichi Tazawa has been one of the Red Sox most consistent relievers this season, operating at peak efficiency as the team's primary eighth-inning set-up man.
But Tazawa wasn't himself Friday night and it cost the Red Sox dearly.
With the Sox leading 3-2 in the seventh, Andrew Miller hit Jose Molina before striking out Logan Forsythe.
In came Tazawa, and soon, out went the Red Sox lead. Tazawa, who had never before issued two walks in the same inning as a reliever, walked Desmond Jennings before yielding a run-scoring, game-tying single to Ben Zobrist.
Then came a second walk and the back-breaker: a bases-clearing double by Evan Longoria that helped the Rays to a 6-4 win.
The two walks matched his total from his 20 previous outings combined.
"Uncharacteristic with him misfiring as much as he did,'' acknowledged John Farrell of Tazawa's command issues. "He was just off the edge with a number of pitches. It's not typical that you see him walk a couple of guys in a given inning.''
"I think my mechanics were not as sound as usual,'' explained Tazawa. "And also, the fact that I was facing some hitters that were pretty hot. I was a little bit too cautious, probably.''
Friday's outing was the first for Tazawa since last Sunday. The Sox had him throw on the side in Toronto -- in part because of his well-documented struggles against the Jays over the last few years and in part because there weren't many situations in which he was needed.
But Tazawa shot down the suggestion that rust was a part of the problem Friday.
"I don't think I can use that as an excuse,'' said Tazawa. "That happens. I was just disappointed that I erased the win for Jonny (Lester, who had left with a 3-2 lead after six innings) and also I'm disappointed that I wasn't able to contribute to a win.''
The three runs allowed were only the second time he's given up that many as a reliever and the most in an outing since Sept. 4, 2009.
Longoria's double was off a curve, when Tazawa might have otherwise thrown him a fastball. But with trouble commanding that pitch, he went with the breaking ball.
"I think that I've been mixing it up the last couple of outings,'' said Tazawa. "I think I was missing my spots with my fastballs, certainly, but with my breaking ball, I just missed.''