The Red Sox had not been kind to the Rays' Edwin Jackson, loser of 12 games, in the past. In the same token, Daisuke Matsuzaka is having a standout rookie season and was depended on to dominate Tampa Bay so Boston could head back on the road with a sweep under its belts.
One bad pitch changed all of that.
"Dice-K is good," manager Terry Francona said. "So many times, we talk about trying to score runs and spread the game out enough where if you make a mistake, it doesn't cost you the ball game. ... [The pitch] was their scoring, but it was enough."
Dice-K held the Rays to a single hit and three walks through his first 5 1/3 innings, and then watched as his hard work went to waste in the form of a two-run homer in the sixth that handed the Red Sox a 2-1 loss, and a blown attempt at a series sweep against baseball's worst team.
"I don't think we ever chalk it up to fate," Francona said. "Every game has its own personality and the way it goes. I think Dice-K is veteran enough and smart enough that he pitches to the scoreboard. He left a fast ball out on the plate to [B.J.] Upton, and that ended up being the difference in the game.
"He pitched great. He's been doing this long enough that he doesn't go into a game thinking about two weeks ago. That would be very counterproductive."
Matsuzaka had coaxed Carl Crawford to fly out and walked Carlos Pena to start the sixth inning. It was looking like the Japanese righty's final inning, as he had thrown 97 pitches at that point when Upton strode to the plate.
First, came a ball. Then, a fastball that caught too much of the strike zone.
The 23-year-old Upton made Matsuzaka pay.
"You just have to go up there looking for something to hit off him," Upton said. "He just left a pitch up. ... He left a fastball up, I had a good look at it."
It was an unfair punishment for Matsuzaka, since it appeared to be the one bad pitch he'd thrown all night. Dice-K held the Rays hitless until Josh Wilson connected for a bloop single to right with one out in the third inning. Three walks aside, they wouldn't reach base afterward until Upton's clutch bomb.
It was a lead Tampa Bay wouldn't relinquish.
The Rays have seemingly tripped up Dice-K this season in a way most teams envy. All told, three of his losses came against the Rays and he's got just one win against Tampa Bay in four starts. The team was hitting .274 against him heading into Wednesday night's game, fifth-best of the 15 Major League teams Matsuzaka has faced in his short career.
Statistics show that Dice-K has suffered from poor run support in each of his the three losses, but he wasn't about to point fingers.
"I don't think I'm particularly stressed out about the fact that these games haven't turned out in our favor," Matsuzaka said through a translator. "Anything I do feel frustrated about is really about my own pitching.
"I think that I wasted a lot of pitches, and I felt like got myself into trouble. My mind-set going into the games is that even if we hit a lull with offensive support, that I'm going to pitch well and hold them to as few runs as I can in the game."
Dice-K wasn't all to blame for this series finale defeat. His teammates had a tough time with Jackson early on as well, and were unable to advance past second base during the first two frames.
That changed in the third when, after Dustin Pedroia was hit by a pitch, Kevin Youkilis doubled and David Ortiz walked to bring up Mike Lowell. The third baseman broke the stalemate with a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Pedroia.
Then, the Red Sox's usually potent offense went ice cold. Boston collected just three hits over the next three frames as Jackson dominated. Fortunately for the Red Sox, Dice-K was doing exactly the same thing to Tampa Bay.
Each team's bullpen held tight after its starters left after six innings, and if not for one fastball that caught a little bit too much of the plate, the Red Sox may have been heading to Chicago on a higher note.
As it was, they had to settle for taking the series, 2-1.
"Mike Lowell hits a screamer to left that ends up being a sac fly," Francona said. "We don't capitalize on it, and that's all we got."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.