NEW YORK — The events of the preceding days finally caught up to the Rays on Saturday afternoon.
Certainly, overall fatigue had to be a factor in a 9-3 loss to the Yankees as they completed their fourth game — and 41st inning — in 51½ hours in two cities.
But the real cause of this loss was another poor performance by a Rays starting pitcher — Jake Odorizzi once again — and the residual impact on a worn-out bullpen left with no choice but to put a game with a tie score in the hands of Josh Lueke, then leave frustrated as a result.
"If we had just pitched to our normal capability," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "we had a pretty good chance to win that game."
And what a win it would have been. The Rays (14-17) — riding the momentum of a doubleheader sweep in Boston on Thursday and Friday's 14-inning win in New York — had a 3-0 fourth-inning lead that had Yankees Japanese rookie sensation Masahiro Tanaka not only looking quite fallible but at the possibility of his first regular-season loss since August 2012.
But things changed suddenly — though not necessarily surprisingly.
Odorizzi's pattern has been to start well, then fade once opposing hitters see him a second time — a .140 average the first time through the order, .475 after that.
Saturday he retired the first nine Yankees he saw, working off his fastball, then allowed seven of the next 10 to reach base, giving up two walks, five hits (including a two-run Mark Teixiera homer) and the lead without getting an out in the fifth.
"He was throwing so well. He really was," Maddon said. "And all of a sudden, it just kind of went away. We've got to get him past that."
Odorizzi, a 24-year-old rookie pushed by injuries into the No. 3 starter's slot, insisted he didn't do anything different as the game went on — working away from most hitters — but suggested maybe he should have.
"We didn't change anything. There wasn't much to change the first three (innings)," he said. "We could have done something different, looking back on it, but we kept the game plan. It worked well. They just hit it where it was pitched."
Odorizzi is 0-3 with an 8.72 ERA over his past five starts but is not apparently in jeopardy of losing his spot in the rotation. He called this outing "a little more encouraging" but also acknowledged, "I can't keep talking about being right there. It has to happen."
Maddon said he didn't know why but noticed that after the homer, Odorizzi "stopped making the quality pitches he had been making up to that point. He's the kind of kid who's hard to read sometimes because he looks externally like he's fine. So it must be something inside, or maybe it's still a confidence thing. He's still growing."
Maddon resorted to using converted starter Cesar Ramos — on what would have been his bullpen-session day — to get out of the fifth with the score 3-3.
But then he was forced to turn to Lueke, who, though he finished Friday's game about 15 hours earlier, had primarily been banished to low-leverage situations based on past failures in tight games.
The plan was to save Jake McGee and Grant Balfour for the final two innings; not use Brandon Gomes, Joel Peralta and Juan Carlos Oviedo at all, and stay away from Heath Bell, who had worked 21/3 innings Friday, if possible.
"We had nothing. He was it," Maddon said. "We had no other options at that point."
Again, the results were not surprising: a leadoff homer to Kelly Johnson in the sixth, then two more runs in a messy seventh that started with three hits.
"It's disappointing to get put in a situation with either the lead or tied game and they give you the ball … and you basically (mess it up)," Lueke said. "It's frustrating. Obviously, you want to be in the situation as often as you can. There are opportunities, and you have to perform when you get them to keep getting them."
Something has to change. Saturday was the 14th time in the past 19 games the Rays' starter hadn't gone more than five innings. Maddon said they were considering a move to add a bullpen arm. But they have not wanted to lose Lueke, who is out of options and can't be sent to the minors without the risk of being claimed on waivers.
Sending down Gomes is another option.
"We just need to get our starters to go more deeply into games," Maddon said. "That's the primary thing to look at."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.