Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Glove failures leave Rays in cold

BOSTON

Baseballs were falling from the skies. It was all the Tampa Bay Rays could do to stay out the way of them.

It was in the fourth inning, and suddenly, everyone on the field was in danger. The Rays, for the life of them, could not catch the ball, and they could not chase it down, and they could not stop it from rolling across the outfield. Just like that, they had become either the 2002 Devil Rays or the 1976 Bad News Bears.

For crying out loud, can anybody field in this game?

All at once, the game became a blooper reel, and baseball gloves were extraneous. A fly ball lands on the wrong side of Wil Myers and bounds into the stands for a double. The pitcher doesn't cover first in time on a ground ball, and worse, the slow execution of the play allows a runner to score from second.

In leftfield the ball keeps bouncing around Sean Rodriguez as if the Green Monster was trying to eat him. A strikeout skips past the catcher and allows the runner to reach.

And somewhere, you can imagine Hal McRae looking on and saying, "Yep, that's my old ballclub, all right."

Just wondering, but is this any way to start the American League Division Series?

Furthermore, yikes.

The source of the Rays' greatest pride let them down in Friday's 12-2 drubbing by the Boston Red Sox. The defense fell apart. Now, if you follow Tampa Bay, you know there are a great many days when the Rays don't hit well enough to win, and you know there are times that certain members of the rotation struggle to hang around for very long.

But defense?

Defense isn't supposed to slump. It is supposed to be as constant as music on the radio, as ever-present as candy inside of a piñata. The Rays are supposed to play defense like Perry Mason. They are all about giving up only one run when the situation suggests they should give up three.

But not on Friday. On Friday, they might as well have been wearing oven mitts in the field. And get this: For all of the miscues, for all of the misplays, they were not charged with an error, which was an insult to the entire method of baseball scorekeeping.

This was so uncharacteristic of the way the Rays play defense these days. Oh, in the old days, back when Ben Grieve was turning Lou Piniella's hair gray, or when Kevin Stocker was making Larry Rothschild's stomach hurt, they had this kind of inning once a week.

But not anymore, which is why this was stunning to see.

Take Myers, who stood blank-faced with his back to a brick wall after the game, trying to explain why he signaled for the ball, then backed off of it. Even now, it's a mystery.

Myers seemed to be in fine shape to catch David Ortiz's fly ball, signaling to centerfielder Desmond Jennings with his right hand. But at the last second, he pulled away, and the ball hit the warning track and bounced into the stands.

According to Myers, it wasn't a case of someone in the Boston bullpen acting as if he was calling for the ball. Myers said he simply saw Jennings out of the corner of his eye and yielded the catch to his teammate.

Frankly, a dozen harder plays are made every game by an outfielder. If Myers makes that play, it doesn't end up on SportsCenter, and it doesn't make the team highlight film. And still, it was missed.

That play seemed to set a tone for the afternoon. With the tension out of the game, the Red Sox fans certainly had a whale of a time shouting out Myers' name in derision the rest of the game.

"It's not easy for something like that to happen," Myers said. "It gave them the momentum. It's a tough situation for me to be in."

But here's the thing: After that play, the Rays still led 2-0. They were still in control.

But then things really came apart. Jonny Gomes doubled in two runs. Then Stephen Drew hit a slow roller toward first, and pitcher Matt Moore was slow to cover first base. And Gomes scored all the way from second. Then came another double, and a single, and Rodriguez kept living a nightmare in left.

"That's why they call it a monster," Rodriguez said of the leftfield wall.

By now, Moore was throwing three pitches: fastballs, curves and doubles. It was the inning that wouldn't end. By the time it was over, Moore had been forced to get six outs, and it felt like 12.

If you wish to be an optimist, then the odds are that the Rays won't be this bad on defense again. If you wish to be a pessimist, they must now beat these Red Sox three games out of four.

Regardless, they resume today.

And the theme music: Silly Glove Songs.

   
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