ST. PETERSBURG — There was, as often has been the case recently, plenty the Rays did well Sunday: another solid start from Alex Cobb, dominant work from core relievers, a couple of more big hits from a warmed up Evan Longoria.
And as the afternoon went on at a sold-out Tropicana Field, most of what they did wrong seemed manageable: grounding into four double plays, Cobb allowing a home run to Robinson Cano on "one of the dumber pitches of my career."
But it turned out to be a seemingly slight mistake — as much of omission as commission — that did the Rays in: allowing Alfonso Soriano to steal third base to lead directly to a 3-2, 11-inning sweep-denying loss to the Yankees, dropping them to 74-54 and out of first place in the American League East after the Red Sox beat the Dodgers 8-1.
"It was a good baseball game overall, it's just unfortunate that one, really, mental mistake cost us that game," Longoria said. "I think we just need to do a little bit better job of being on the same page, both pitcher and middle infielder, whoever it is. Although Soriano is not a burner, you have to assume everybody out there is a threat. So we'll learn from our mistake."
Soriano doubled with one out in the 11th off veteran reliever Jamey Wright, and, with little effort from Wright or shortstop Yunel Escobar to impede him, broke for third on the first pitch to Curtis Granderson. He scored easily when Granderson lofted the next pitch to deep center before the Yankees turned the game over to Mariano Rivera.
Wright took the blame, saying he should have something, anything, but it was a team effort. Manager Joe Maddon had a strong shift on against the left-handed Granderson (whom he preferred Wright face than right-handed Eduardo Nunez) and Escobar, well on the first base side of second, didn't do much to deter Soriano from taking a big lead. Finally, catcher Jose Lobaton's throw to third was a bit high.
"We just can't permit that to happen," Maddon said.
Wright felt it started with him, first in giving up the double on a misplaced changeup, which he acknowledged is his fourth-best pitch and he'd been throwing it too often. Then for not keeping Soriano closer to the base after taking two peeks from the mound.
"I looked back there and nobody was close and … I guess it didn't even cross my mind at that point that he was going to steal," Wright said. "He had a big lead, too. I should have stepped off. … Do an inside move (catching Soriano off base) there and I'm sure he's out and I've got two outs and facing Granderson. That's a tough one. But we'll be fine."
Soriano had the green light and said it was a combination of knowledge, being aware Wright is typically slow to the plate, and opportunity, planning to originally to wait at least one pitch. "When he looked twice, I just changed my mind to go because most pitchers, they're not going to look three times," he said.
It was, realistically, a small mistake. And one that wouldn't have mattered had things gone differently, from James Loney grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in the first to Longoria's 11th-inning drive off Rivera being run down in the gap by Granderson.
But at this stage of the season, everything is important.
"We were right there, and one hit away from sweeping," Longoria said. "That may be the difference between winning the division and winning the wild card, picking up a game like this."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.