ST. PETERSBURG — A bad play by rookie rightfielder Kevin Kiermaier and a whole bunch of bad pitches by Grant Balfour doomed the Rays on Tuesday, as they lost another game they couldn't afford to, 8-6 to the Tigers in 11 innings.
The go-ahead run scored on a bases-loaded walk by Balfour, his third of an inning that started with Kiermaier diving for and missing an Ian Kinsler line drive that ended up a triple, and, before it ended, saw the the Rays rally and even get the winning run to the plate.
But none of that drama was necessary, not with a 4-0 lead against Max Scherzer and Chris Archer posting zeroes into the fifth. But Archer lost control, command and the lead, and before the end of the sixth the Tigers had tied it at 4, and the Rays never led again, the four-run blown lead matching their largest of the season.
"I could sit here and say we're out of mulligans, and there was another one right there,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Because that's a game we should be able to put away and we didn't.''
After an afternoon of renewed acquaintances with former ace David Price, it turned out to be a lost evening for the 61-64 Rays, who dropped their third straight and are dropping closer to out of the race for the second American League wild card, now seven games back of the Tigers with 37 to play.
Despite a rare throwing error by first baseman James Loney (who earlier hit a three-run homer), five walks by Archer (and 10 overall by their pitchers), Joel Peralta giving up another homer and the usual wasted opportunities, including a 10th-inning at-bat by catcher Jose Molina with the winning run on second that featured 10 foul balls but ended with him taking a third strike, the Rays managed to get to the 11th tied.
And that's when it got really bad.
First, Kiermaier made an ill-timed, if not ill-conceived, dive on Kinsler's liner, the ball glancing off him and skipping by him, allowing Kinsler to get to third. Maddon said he had no complaints with the aggressive play, that it was a play Kiermaier could make "9.5 out of 10 times, it just didn't happen.''
Kiermaier, though, took the blame.
"I wouldn't have dove if I wasn't 100 percent (sure),'' he said. "It's tough. I put that loss on my shoulders. … I don't know how I missed it."
Balfour then walked the next three batters — Torii Hunter on four pitches unintentionally, Miguel Cabrera intentionally then Victor Martinez on five pitches to force in the go-ahead run, handing him his fifth loss of the season.
"Just a lot of frustration,'' Balfour said. "When does it end, this season?"
Balfour acknowledged Kiermaier's misplay — "That's the story of my season, I feel like. ... I see guys go out and make the same pitch and a play gets made" — but also took some blame himself, saying he should have been more aggressive, especially to Hunter.
That walk was really the big problem, as it forced Maddon into what he admitted was "a horrible moment,'' either allowing Balfour to pitch to the dangerous Cabrera or taking away control-challenged Balfour's margin for error. He opted for the latter, hoping Balfour would get Martinez to hit a ground ball.
"It's only right if it works,'' Maddon said, "and it didn't work.''
Not even close, as Balfour has now walked 38, the most of any major-league reliever, in his 47⅔ innings, with a 5.48 ERA. The Tigers scored twice more in the inning, on a wild pitch by Jeff Beliveau past Molina and on a sac fly. The Rays got one run with two outs in their 11th off Joe Nathan, as Ben Zobrist singled, Logan Forsythe walked and Evan Longoria delivered an RBI single, but Sean Rodriguez, representing the winning run, took a fastball then chased a couple of sliders and struck out.
But the Rays should never have been in such position for such drama.
Loney's three-run homer in the first, and a sac fly by Vince Belnome, who picked up his first big-league RBI and earlier his first hit on the night, put the Rays up 4-0.
But then came Archer's collapse.
In the first four innings, he threw 56 pitches, allowing two walks and one hit, getting out of what little mess he had. Then he threw 51 over the next 1⅔, giving up four runs and the lead on four hits and three walks, one with the bases loaded.
Archer allowed three in the fifth, with the throwing error by Loney a big moment, Maddon ceding he might have been better off taking the out at first than throwing to second. Then Archer allowed another in the sixth after getting the first two out. The bigger problem overall were the walks, especially at the bottom of the Detroit order, four to the Nos. 7-9 hitters.
"That's just a youthful thing,'' Maddon said. "As he gets more experience, that'll go away.''
With so much that went wrong, Maddon said he wasn't going to blame any one person.
"You can nitpick that, but we should have won that game tonight, I'm not going to deny that,'' he said. "We had that game, we should have won that game, I don't think any of the players would disagree with that.''