Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Sloppy Rays see streak end, fall to Jays

TORONTO — Friday went so badly for the Rays that even manager Joe Maddon's preferred plan to forget about their ugly and costly 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays was stymied.

"One of the rough parts about being in Canada is that I can't get Netflix back at the hotel, and with that, I can't really watch The Office," Maddon said.

"Michael Scott (The Office's comical lead character) has really gotten me through these last two weeks. So if anything, I'm disappointed in that."

After watching his Rays make a season-high three errors, including two by third baseman Evan Longoria, and watching Jeremy Hellickson's good pitching start turn bad fast, Maddon's backup plan was to watch a movie on his iPad.

But he might have wanted to at least glance over the memo Major League Baseball issued Friday detailing how a three-way tie would be broken for the American League wild-card spots, because the race is a lot wilder now, with two days left on the regular-season schedule.

While the Rays (90-70) lost for the first time in more than a week, they also lost the wild-card edge they had as the Indians won again, creating a tie for the top spot. The Rangers, who also won Friday, are one game back. The Rays still have a magic number of two to clinch a spot — a combination of their wins and/or Texas losses — so if they win out, they're in.

"Although there's only two games left, we still have a chance," Longoria said. "I guess we really still are in the driver's seat. … We're tied, and we go out and win (today) and see where we're at. It's not like we're playing catch-up."

Rather than ending Friday in a champagne celebration, the Rays did so in frustration. The game couldn't have started better. Hellickson retired the first nine Jays with ease (32 pitches total), and home runs by Ben Zobrist and Delmon Young off knuckleballing nemesis R.A. Dickey gave them a lead.

But everything — the momentum, the game, the look of the wild-card race — changed in a messy fourth.

After a single and a bunt, Longoria made his first mistake, going against his instinct by hanging back on a Brett Lawrie bouncer and getting handcuffed by a bad hop off a bouncier version of Astroturf than they have at Tropicana Field.

"It's really tough if you don't play here a lot," said Longoria, who had a three-error game in Toronto in 2012.

A hard single and a blooper to shallow center led to two runs, then the Jays went ahead on an error by centerfielder Sam Fuld, who aggressively charged Ryan Goins' single but somehow let it get by him. The ball rolled nearly to the wall as two more runs scored. "I don't know, I think I just took my eye off it a second too early," Fuld said. "You can't imagine a worse scenario as an outfielder."

Though Maddon insisted, almost defiantly, that Hellickson wasn't to blame — "Don't anybody get on Hellickson; he pitched well (Friday)" — Hellickson made things worse in the fifth when he issued back-to-back two-out walks, both runners eventually scoring, one as Longoria made an errant throw for his second error.

"It's just tough to locate and throw the ball where I wanted for three innings and then have it all fall apart," Hellickson said. "I felt good. That's a tough one."

The Rays had one chance to get back in the game, loading the bases with one out in the eighth and chasing Dickey. But as the Rays have done so often — hitting a measly .226 with the bases loaded — they failed to capitalize, James Loney bouncing into a double play.

Under the three-team wild-card tie-breaking plan, the Indians, by virtue of having the best record against the other two teams, chose the easiest path to a berth and Monday would host the Rays, who as the second pick logically opted for two chances, albeit both on the road. Monday's winner would be the top wild card, the loser facing the Rangers in Texas on Tuesday for the other spot.

Maddon preferred a simple analysis:

"We didn't play well (Friday), and we got beat. For me the only thing to do is get a good night's rest, come back (today) with a good attitude and play the game. There's nothing else you really can do."

 
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