Friday, February 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Mental mistakes doom Rays in loss to Cardinals

ST. LOUIS — With all the Rays did wrong Saturday — and there was plenty — it wasn't until the final mistake that they actually were beaten, Dan Wheeler leaving a slider over the plate that Ryan Ludwick knocked over the fence for a 9-8 10-inning walkoff Cardinals win.

Wheeler's mistake, at least, was a physical one. The same for shortstop Jason Bartlett's fifth-inning throwing error that led to a run.

But it was a series of mental mistakes, including a staggering five runners tagged out on the bases, four to end innings, that was most glaring.

"Just not a fun game to lose," outfielder Gabe Gross said.

And most concerning to manager Joe Maddon, because it was the kind of performance the Rays had avoided in their unlikely run to the top of the American League, where they still have the best record, at 25-18, and are tied for the division lead after Boston's doubleheader sweep of Milwaukee.

"We made up for the mental mistakes that we have not been making all in one day," Maddon said. "That was truly remarkable. There were primarily mental mistakes the whole day. Just get them out of the way and move on. I'm not pleased with it. We've addressed all of them. We can't do that kind of stuff. Obviously we don't do that and we probably won that game today."

That they still had a chance to was the subplot, an impressive comeback after starter Matt Garza was gone early. They were down 7-3 after five innings, then 8-4 after six, following another mental mistake as J.P Howell grooved a 3-and-0 pitch to Albert Pujols with none on and two out.

But Carlos Pena, celebrating his 30th birthday, hit a three-run homer in the seventh before they left on two more of their 10 runners as they rapped a season-high and team-record-for-a-loss-tying 18 hits. And Carl Crawford scored on Evan Longoria's sac fly in the eighth before Upton ran into another out, getting caught trying to get to third.

"Loved the battle,'' Maddon said.

They had a chance in the ninth, but Gross was caught stealing for the final out as Bartlett struck out. And there was at least an opportunity in the 10th when Crawford walked with two outs, but Upton struck out.

Wheeler fanned Troy Glaus to open the 10th, but missed badly on his first pitch to Ludwick, who homered earlier off Garza, and the ball carried — surprisingly to both teams — over the left-centerfield fence, just out of Upton's reach. "Just one of those things," Wheeler said. "What are you going to do? It sucks that it was the last inning and we were tied and we lost."

But it should have never come to that.

"Plain and simple," Maddon said, "we beat ourselves."

In the fifth, Upton was caught stealing third, the AL-high fifth time he has been nabbed. Longoria ended the first by getting picked off first by catcher Yadier Molina. Gross lost track of the outs in the second and failed to score from second of a soft single but was later knocked in by Crawford, who then was caught breaking too early for second for the final out. There was also a missed sign along the way.

"We struggled today on the basepaths," Crawford said. "We were real sloppy. We were just trying to be aggressive, I think. That's how we play, but today it kind of bit us. …

"We're just going to forget about that game real quick."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]times.com.

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