BALTIMORE — After going a team record-tying 10 games without an error, the Rays made a simple mistake in the first inning Sunday that had a significant impact on the rest of their day.
What looked to be a successful pickoff of leadoff man Brian Roberts went bad as Wade Davis' throw bounced past fill-in 1B Ben Zobrist, allowing Roberts to advance to third.
The error forced the Rays to play from behind as the O's went on to score two first-inning runs and led to an abbreviated start as Davis, given the additional pitches he threw in the first, left after five with his pitch count at 103.
"That was a big play," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's incredible how a play like that so early can have such an impact on the game."
And, of course, it didn't have to be that way.
Davis could have made a better throw, but delivered it too low.
"That was unfortunate," he said. "That didn't lose the ball game, but it didn't help."
Zobrist could have made a better play, but he had trouble seeing the ball in the bright sun and glare coming off the stands.
"I can adjust to that ball if I can see it really well," Zobrist said. "The background's just tough here."
And Maddon could have had regular Carlos Peña (who got the day off) or the more experienced Dan Johnson at first rather than Zobrist, who was making his eighth start.
"We just execute a simple play like that," Maddon said. "That's what people don't understand; it's something really simple. Our first error in 11 games was a pickoff attempt at first base. And that was a very impactful moment."
TALL ORDER: Given the poor results in two outings since returning from a three-week DL stint due to a shoulder strain, RHP Jeff Niemann goes into tonight's start in Boston trying to look instead at the progress.
Niemann acknowledged Sunday that he "probably wasn't ready" to return when he did Aug. 25 with a rough outing in Anaheim. He is confident the first five innings of his last start (Tuesday, when he allowed one run against Toronto) are more indicative of his status than the sixth inning (when he allowed six). And he's pleased the shoulder hasn't bothered him.
"As bad as everything ended up last game, there were a lot of positives we take from it and build off and run with," he said. "It's just a matter of turning in a good one from start to finish and I think that'll really help me out."
PITCHING IN: RHP Jeremy Hellickson said he should be available tonight after throwing 45 pitches in his relief debut Saturday; Maddon said they might wait until Tuesday. … RHP Andy Sonnanstine will be "called up" today after being optioned (but not reporting) to Class A Hudson Valley last week in a roster manipulation maneuver. With the Renegades' season ending Sunday, he can return without spending the minimum 10 days in the minors.
DAY OFF REST: Maddon said there was nothing wrong with Peña's previously injured right foot, or anything else, he just wanted to give him a break after seeing him go 0-for-18 since his third-inning homer Monday.
DAN "BLEEPING" JOHNSON: Johnson isn't sure what type of reception he'll receive from the Fenway faithful, given his blossoming reputation as a Sox-killer along the lines of former Yankee Bucky Dent, but he hopes it's loud. "I'd enjoy that," Johnson said. "If they're yelling and screaming at you, it means you're doing something right. I'm excited to hear it."
MINOR MATTERS: The Class A Stone Crabs open the best-of-three Florida State League playoffs Tuesday in Bradenton, with minor-league strikeout king LHP Matt Moore on the mound.
MISCELLANY: Evan Longoria and Zobrist homered for the first time since Aug. 24. … Both teams batted around in the sixth. … Carl Crawford hit his 10th triple, making it five seasons in double digits.