James Shields struck out Daniel Nava for the second out of the fifth inning, which made having runners at second and third more manageable. The only question was whether to face David Ortiz, who hits Shields hard, or walk him and pitch to Kevin Youkilis, who doesn't.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon jogged to the mound to consult with his pitcher.
Maddon decided on pitching to Big Papi.
Ortiz drilled the ball into the right-field seats for Boston's first runs of what became an 8-5 Red Sox victory.
"Just wanted to talk to him about that particular situation," Maddon said. "Going into that at-bat, Papi had much more success (against Shields) than Youkilis did. Just want to see how (Shields) felt about things, and then I decided to pitch to Ortiz right there, so don't blame anybody but me."
Shields, who agreed with the decision, said he wasn't trying to throw the ball over the plate, but did, throwing it down the middle. Ortiz had little choice but to crush it.
"I don't even know how I did it," Shields said. "I was literally trying to throw it about a foot off the dish. He was ambushing me. That was the turning moment in the game. I've got to do a better job right there of bearing down and executing my pitch."
That kind of sums up how things have gone for the Rays over the past five weeks or so.
Try to throw a strike and miss. Try to throw a ball and ... CRACK.
The Rays' free-fall continues, despite getting 12 hits and fighting back from an 8-1 deficit with two runs in the eighth and two more in the in the ninth, when they brought the trying run to the plate.
Closer Jonathon Papelbon, the third Red Sox pitcher in the inning, struck out Willy Aybar for the final out.
The Rays have lost nine of their last 12 and 20 of their last 32. They are 12-20 since May 24, when they woke up with a major league-best 32-12 record and six-game lead in the American League East.
They remain in third place three games behind the first-place New York Yankees, who lost Tuesday night to the visiting Mariners. The Red Sox moved to within a game of the Yankees.
Wasted was a four-hit night from Carl Crawford, who returned to left field for the first time in three games, a pinch-hit home run by Aybar in the eighth inning and some nifty base running by B.J. Upton, who didn't start. Upton wasn't benched, according to Maddon, and pinch-hit in the eighth and turned a double down the left field into a triple by turning on the jets as he rounded second base.
Wasted was a chance to pick up a game on the Yankees and move into a tie with the Red Sox for second place.
Shields lost his seventh straight start, matching Albie Lopez and Joe Kennedy, who both lost seven straight in 2001. Once 5-1 with a 3.08 ERA and 5-2 with a 2.99 ERA, Shields is not 6-8 with a 4.76 ERA. His lone win since beating the Yankees on May 20 at Yankee Stadium came during his one-inning relief outing against the Marlins on June 19.
Shields pitched into the sixth inning, facing three batters without getting an out. He allowed five runs to raise his ERA during his losing streak to 7.34.
"I thought he was actually throwing the ball pretty well," Maddon said. "If you get beyond that homer he might have been able to go six full there and the game would have been entirely different. We've talked about this from Day 1, that razor thin line between winning and losing, and if he's able to execute his pitch right there, the homer doesn't happen and everybody's talking about what a wonderful night he had. So it really came down to that one pitch."
Shields had allowed only two hits through the first four innings - a single and a double by Adrian Beltre.
Mike Cameron started the fifth inning rally with a one-out single and moved to third on a double by Marco Scutaro. Shields helped himself by striking out Nava.
Now came decision time.
Maddon went to the mound.
On deck was the left-handed hitting Ortiz, who was 11-for-29 with a pair of home runs against the right-handed Shields. Behind him was the right-handed hitting Youkilis, who was 3-for-30 against Shields.
"Just in talking things over with (pitching coach Jim Hickey) before I went out there and Shields when I did go out there and (asked) how he felt about it," Maddon said. "A lot of it has to do with what's been going on more recently with certain hitters and Shields felt good about it. So I felt good about it. He did not want to throw that pitch where he did, I promise you that. It always comes down to execution.
"So you're going to look at it as a wrong decision, and it was for (Tuesday night), obviously ,with the way it turned out. But he did not execute what he was trying to do, so that happens, too."
Shields said he wasn't actually going to pitch to Ortiz.
"I told him I wanted to face Ortiz, but I wasn't going to throw anything over the dish," Shields said. "I was going to try to intentionally, unintentionally walk him. Maybe he'd chase something. And I was trying to throw a fastball about a foot off the plate, just kind of show him the fastball and I ended up yanking it right down the middle."
The Red Sox designated hitter didn't miss it, sending the ball deep into the seats behind the right field bullpen for his 17th home run of the season and a 3-0 Red Sox lead.
Shields struck out Youkilis to end the inning.