TORONTO — There were some big moments in the Rays' 6-4 Friday night loss to the Blue Jays.
A three-run Toronto rally in the second after Andy Sonnanstine was staked to a 2-0 lead. An Alex Rios homer in the third that put the Jays up 4-2. Roy Halladay freezing B.J. Upton on strike three with two on to end the seventh. Rios hitting a two-run homer off Grant Balfour in the eighth to provide the final margin. B.J. Ryan fanning Carlos Pena to end the game with two on.
But it was a little play — Akinori Iwamura failing to get down a good bunt on a safety squeeze that would have tied the score in the seventh — that made the largest difference.
"If we get the bunt down properly … that was a whole different ballgame," manager Joe Maddon said. "That was the fulcrum of the game."
It was also a huge reminder of how magnified mistakes are at this time of year.
The loss was the third for the Rays (85-54) in four September games, and it sliced their American League East lead over the Red Sox to 2½ games — the smallest it has been in a month and potentially perilous since the teams play a three-game series at Fenway Park starting Monday.
As much as Maddon praised the Rays' hustle and grit, he acknowledged how the margin for error has shrunk.
"We have to play our game properly every night," Maddon said. "Their effort was wonderful. You saw the guys running to first base. We made some very good plays on defense. There were some great at-bats, especially late.
"We played well. We just hung a couple pitches and didn't execute one play. And therein lies the difference in games. And if it happens in April or May, maybe you're not scrutinized so tightly. But this time of year, you're going to be. And so be it — it's a good thing."
Sonnanstine, failing for the third time to tie Rolando Arrojo's 1998 franchise record of 14 wins in a season, didn't pitch that badly over his six innings. He was more down about not holding the 2-0 first-inning lead his mates grabbed off Halladay.
"I know coming out of the gate those two runs there were pretty precious, and I'm kind of disappointed I didn't go back out there and put up another zero," he said.
The Rays were trying (again) to be the first team to beat Halladay four times in a season, and they had a shot in the seventh. Down 4-2, they scored one run on a one-out single by Dioner Navarro, a double by Gabe Gross and an all-hustle infield single by Jason Bartlett.
With men on first and third, Maddon went for the safety squeeze, but Iwamura bunted too hard and right at Halladay (rather than past him on the first-base side) and Gross, rather than scoring the tying run, was caught in a rundown and tagged out.
"It was wide open," Maddon said. "We just didn't get it done."
It was almost the exact same situation as Aug. 12 in Oakland, when Iwamura did the same thing, and Ben Zobrist was tagged out.
Iwamura, terse even in translation, said: "I accept that I made a mistake, but we have a game (today) so I have to keep my head up."
And each one bigger than the last.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.