CHICAGO — The Rays spent most of a long Friday night against the White Sox wasting opportunities. Then after they took the lead on a two-run homer by Evan Longoria in the ninth, they really blew it, losing 9-6.
Closer Grant Balfour failed miserably, turning what would have been an inspiring victory into a staggering defeat, allowing a walkoff grand slam to rookie Jose Abreu with two outs.
"That's a frustrating night for me,'' Balfour said. "I know I'm better than that.''
The Rays looked like they were going to salvage the night when Longoria, who had left seven men on in his three previous at-bats, hit a two-run homer in the ninth, his blast to center following Matt Joyce's team-record fifth walk of the game.
But that turned out to be just the warm-up to the real dramatics..
"This is absolutely a game that we should have won," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Right pitcher in the right spot, right part of their batting order coming up, and we just didn't get it done."
After getting a quick out, Balfour, admitting afterward he needed to be more aggressive, loaded the bases on a double and two walks.
He got into a shouting match with Sox veteran Paul Konerko, then nearly got out of the mess when he got Adam Eaton to hit a ground ball for what would have been a game-ending double play.
But second baseman Ben Zobrist., who had made several dazzling plays earlier, had issues fielding the ball and Eaton beat shortstop Yunel Escobar's throw to first, a rare instance where defense cost the Rays a game.
"I didn't get it clean, right in the glove,'' Zobrist said. "I still got the feed up to Yuni. A normal speed guy, we've got him. But Eaton is pretty quick.''
Maddon challenged the call at first just in case, but replay confirmed it.
Balfour then issued another walk to reload the bases and allowed the grand slam on a fastball to Abreu, the Cuban import who now has nine home runs — the most by a rookie in April in major-league history — and 27 RBIs.
Maddon said Balfour got himself in trouble by being reluctant to throw his fastball earlier in the messy inning.
"Too many sliders," Maddon said. "Not enough challenging-type attitude."
Balfour agreed, saying his fastball hasn't been sharp. "I was pitching away from contact a little bit.,'' he said. "I probably got a little carried away with breaking balls. ... You can't go putting three guys on.''
Balfour said he was frustrated with himself and not yelling at Konerko and didn't know why the veteran slugger reacted as he did.
"I'm angry at myself, so if he wants to yell at me, whatever,'' Balfour said. "I wasn't yelling at him — I was frustrated, the fact that I missed by six feet right there.
"He's been playing a long time, and so have I. I respect everything he's done. To think that I was yelling at him? Why? If he was trying to get under my skin, usually it doesn't work out, tonight it did for him.'' '
The whole night was unfulfilling for the Rays (11-13).
They rapped 10 hits and drew 11 walks (tying the team record for a nine-inning game). They got the leadoff man on base in six innings but left 11 on, going 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and hitting into three double plays.
At least starter Chris Archer made the night somewhat of a success by pitching into the seventh, though he said that wasn't good enough.
"Going six innings doesn't ever really feel like an accomplishment to me,'' Archer said. "I expect much more out of myself.''
In the previous 10 games, the Rays starters have failed to last more than five innings eight times, putting a severe strain on the bullpen. During that span, the starters worked 482/3 innings — with a 6.85 ERA — while the relievers had to cover 441/3.
Overall in their first 22 games, the Rays didn't get more than five innings from their starters an American League-most 11 times.
Archer was pulled after allowing a leadoff double to Tyler Flowers in the seventh of what was then a 4-4 game.
It came on his season-high 101st pitch. He had allowed the four runs on nine hits, striking out four and walking none.
"I think everything was working,'' Archer said. "I threw a little over 100 pitches and a few of them were mistakes. It wasn't anything that was necessarily lacking. At certain points I didn't execute pitches as well as I would have liked.''
Joyce became the first American League batter to draw five nonintentional walks in five plate appearances since 2000, when Alex Rodriguez did it for Seattle.
"Obviously I saw the ball well, but just didn't really get a lot of pitches to hit,'' Joyce said. "You've always got to take your walks if they're givign them to you.''
After Archer allowed a first-inning run, his mates rallied for four in a 10-batter second that featured six straight Rays reaching with two outs. But Archer gave it all back.
A two-out homer by Abreu in the third made it 4-2. Then Archer allowed three straight hits to load the bases to open the fourth then a two-run single by Flowers, the No. 8 hitter.
The Sox could have had more in the fourth but ran themselves out of the rally. With one out and men on first and third, Archer gloved Eaton's comebacker and caught Alejandro De Aza off third. The Rays got him out in a rundown then caught Flowers trying to get to third.
The Rays took a 4-1 lead in the second, doing considerable damage with two outs against rookie Erik Johnson. With Longoria on second after a single and a wild pitch, David DeJesus walked then Yunel Escobar singled in a run. Ryan Hanigan did the same, and Zobrist doubled in another.
Desmond Jennings walked to load the bases, then Joyce, battling back after falling behind 1-and-2, drew a walk to force in the fourth run and end Johnson's night.
Longoria said it was just one of those nights — "It happens.'' — and they would move on with their confidence in Balfour intact.
"He's closed out some games for us already and nothing like this happened,'' Longoria said. "I think he understands that we're still behind him and we trust him, that when he comes in that it's going to be a save. I think we understand that nobody feels worse than he does.''
Maybe so. But plenty felt bad.
"That's a tough loss for us, for sure,'' Joyce said. "Especially after we went up two runs — we had that game in hand.''.