Ninth-inning disaster strikes White Sox in crushing 8-7 loss to can’t-miss Rays

With a two-run lead entering the ninth, Reynaldo Lopez gave up a home run to Christian Bethancourt, a sharp single to Yandy Diaz and a towering blast to Brandon Lowe. The first three batters were all it took.

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Chicago White Sox v Tampa Bay Rays

White Sox reliever Reynaldo Lopez walks off the field while Brandon Lowe rounds the bases with a walk-off homer Friday at Tropicana Field.

Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Friday nearly was a walk in the fiberglass-covered park for the White Sox.

Instead, the roof caved in on them in an 8-7 loss to the can’t-miss Rays at Tropicana Field.

Does everything have to be painfully difficult for the Sox this season?

That wasn’t a rhetorical question. Still, only 20 games in, we’re getting a pretty strong indication of an answer in the affirmative. The 7-13 Sox are having a brutal go of it, which, you might recall, could have been said about last season, too. If there’s an end in sight, it’s awfully hard to see it at the moment.

The bottom of the ninth inning was a one-two-three-punch knockout from which the Sox have no choice but to try to recover. With a 7-5 lead entering the inning, Reynaldo Lopez gave up a home run to Christian Bethancourt, a sharp single to Yandy Diaz and a towering blast to Brandon Lowe. The first three batters were all it took.

It had to be the toughest loss for first-year manager Pedro Grifol so far.

‘‘They’re all difficult,’’ Grifol said. ‘‘A loss is a loss in the big leagues, and we’ve just got to keep going.’’

But instead of a happy or determined-looking clubhouse, the Sox had Lopez slumped over in his seat, facing away from the rest of the room, with Grifol leaning in and cradling the reliever in his arms.

‘‘We took a two-run lead into the ninth with Lopey, and we all trust Lopey,’’ Grifol said. ‘‘And I’ll trust him again tomorrow. That’s it.’’

After a shower, Lopez made brief comments.

‘‘What happened today is today,’’ he said. ‘‘Tomorrow is another day. Just turn the page and try to be the best tomorrow.’’

But tomorrow still means the Rays are on the docket, and that’s trouble of the worst kind. They became the first team since the 2009 Dodgers to open 11-0 at home, just tied their longest home winning streak ever and, at 17-3, continue to swing well above the weight that their payroll, rundown stadium and roster — still overshadowed in the American League East — would seem to make possible.

And that barely scratches the surface of how dominant the Rays have been. They entered the series with the lowest team ERA in the majors and a cartoonish run differential of plus-83, the largest through 19 games in the modern era.

They laid into Sox starter Michael Kopech for four two-out runs in the first inning, the second pair coming in on a long homer by Harold Ramirez. It was the Rays’ 43rd homer in their first 20 games — four off the major-league record — and gave the best power-hitting team in baseball at least one homer in each game so far, tying the Mariners’ record run to start the 2019 season.

But the Sox responded with three runs in the second, with Yasmani Grandal and Jake Burger taking hits the opposite way — Burger’s going for a double — and Oscar Colas, Elvis Andrus and Andrew Benintendi piling in with RBI hits. Just like that, it was 4-3.

‘‘Our guys battled,’’ Grifol said. ‘‘We got down 4-0 in the first, and that dugout never stopped.’’

And in a ridiculous top of the third, the Sox never started — swinging, that is — because Rays reliever Jalen Beeks made sure it was unnecessary. Beeks walked Andrew Vaughn, Grandal, Colas, Andrus and Lenyn Sosa in an off-the-rails display. Six Sox in all walked in the inning — a first for the team since in 1959 — and three runs scored without the benefit of a single hit.

And then Kopech dug in, righting himself through the fifth, touching a season-high 99 mph on his fastball and making sure the momentum didn’t slip away from the Sox.

A bullpen that has been hit hard without its usual anchor, closer Liam Hendriks, rose up mightily for three huge innings, with Jimmy Lambert striking out the side in the sixth and Kendall Graveman and Aaron Bummer giving up squat in the seventh and eighth.

And then?

You already know what happened then.

‘‘Credit to [the Rays],’’ Kopech said. ‘‘When you’re hot, you’re hot.’’

And when you’re not, you’re not.

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