TORONTO — Rafael Soriano's problems started Saturday night in his hotel room, when he tossed and turned and slept only a few hours. The Rays' All-Star closer still didn't feel well overall Sunday morning when he showed up at the Rogers Centre, but asking for the day off wasn't a consideration.
"That would not be me," Soriano said later. "I tried to go and do the best that I can."
But Sunday, unlike so many other days during his remarkable season, Soriano wasn't good enough, allowing a two-run walkoff homer to Adam Lind in the ninth inning. And what, with the Yankees' later loss, would have been a victory that propelled the Rays back into first place instead became a stunning 5-4 loss.
"It just happens," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's going to happen to everybody. This guy's been absolutely brilliant for us all year, and they got him today."
The loss dropped the Rays to 86-56, keeping them a half-game behind the Yankees in the AL East heading into the three-game series opening tonight at Tropicana Field and cutting their wild-card lead over the Red Sox and White Sox to 7½ games, though still a comfortable margin with only 20 games left.
Down 3-1 after a somewhat encouraging performance from struggling starter Jeff Niemann — five innings, three runs, two hits, four walks — the Rays rallied to tie in the sixth, taking advantage of some Toronto sloppiness and getting another big hit from a warming Ben Zobrist.
Then they went ahead by manufacturing a run in the ninth: Brad Hawpe walking, breaking for second then going to third as Desmond Jennings singled through the hole, and scoring on B.J. Upton's sac fly.
That put the game in Soriano's right hand, and the Rays had every reason to feel good about it.
"He's spoiled us," Maddon said. "He's been so right on the whole year."
Soriano indeed had converted a league-leading 42 of his 44 save opportunities (one shy of the team record, set by Roberto Hernandez in 1999), and his last 19 in a row (which matched the team mark). And neither of his two failures was very dramatic: one the first, and only, time he was called on to pitch in the eighth inning (at Florida June 19); and the other when he allowed the tying runs in the ninth inning (at Baltimore July 20) and the game ended up going 13.
"Come on," reliever Randy Choate said, "he's been so great all year you count it as a win if we're up in the ninth."
All of which made Sunday's outcome so unusual. After seeing Soriano's elaborate routine of celebrating a save (gesturing skyward, untucking his shirts), the Rays instead saw him make a slow walk off the mound with his head down.
"Bad day," Soriano said. "I want to be perfect every time, but I know I can't be."
The end came suddenly. Aaron Hill greeted Soriano with a hard single to left on an 0-and-1 slider. Then Soriano got ahead of Adam Lind 0-and-2 and tried to get a fastball up and in, but it wasn't quite enough of either and Lind laced it on a line drive over the rightfield wall.
"To me, it was a good pitch," Soriano said. "I don't know how he hit the ball like that."
Soriano insisted he wasn't making excuses, was sure he'd feel better soon and that tough loss would be forgotten by the time he strolls into the Trop this afternoon.
"You can't win every single day," Soriano said. "I want to, but you cannot do it."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.