NEW YORK — Rookie Wil Myers sure looked to be the leading man Saturday. On no less grand a stage than Yankee Stadium, playing his sixth game in the big leagues, his family looking on from the stands, Myers delivered his first home run in a signature moment that legends are made of, responding to an intentional walk with a sixth-inning grand slam off CC Sabathia that put his Rays ahead.
But the drama, it turned out, was only just beginning. And it's a tired act the Rays have seen too often this season.
Joel Peralta and Jake McGee became the central players as the bullpen failed again, the curtain crashing down on another frustrating loss, this one 7-5, dropping them into last place in the American League East.
"It's got to be the toughest one," Peralta said. "After Myers did what he did and we came from behind against CC and we had a two-run lead in the seventh inning, we shouldn't let that go."
The bullpen blowups have been the most staggering inadequacy in the Rays' 38-37 season of inconsistency, Saturday marking the ninth game they have lost after leading from the seventh inning on.
"This is just on the pile of tough ones," said manager Joe Maddon, whose pitchers surrendered a season-high nine walks, including two with the bases loaded. "There's been a lot of them. Way too many. That's the difference between us really being one of the elite right now and not. We've just permitted too many late games to get away from us.
"That's not to say that I don't have confidence. I do, in all these relief guys. It's unfortunate. It's just unsettling that we can't get these guys right on a consistent basis like in the past, because they're really good."
As much as Maddon tried to maintain his standard upbeat approach, he also made the unusual move of walking into the clubhouse — bringing snacks, with a bowl of chips in one hand and salsa in the other — to sit for a few moments and talk with McGee, then doing the same with Peralta.
"It was a tough day," Maddon said.
It looked like a pretty good day when Myers gave them a 5-3 lead after an unsettled start by rookie Alex Colome. Myers said he couldn't recall another time at any level when a team walked someone to face him, though given that Evan Longoria had already homered and has an MLB-leading .383 average off Sabathia, it made some sense.
Still, Myers was motivated by it. "Definitely it gives me a lot of confidence at the plate," he said.
The 22-year-old prized prospect showed it on a 1-and-2 fastball, muscling the ball to the right side of centerfield, his animated reaction delayed until he was nearly around second as the ball hit the top of the fence then centerfielder Brett Gardner's glove before going into the stands.
"It's a pretty cool situation to be able to do that after an intentional walk," Myers said. "I was pretty excited. It was just awesome to be down two strikes and the crowd cheering and then to be able to put a swing like that on it. It was just a cool experience."
But it didn't turn out that way. Peralta came on for the seventh, but it became clear quickly the veteran right-hander, who gave up a walkoff homer Tuesday in Boston, didn't have it. He walked Robinson Cano, got one out, gave up a double to Lyle Overbay, then walked rookie Zoilo Almonte to load the bases.
"I don't know — none of my pitches were working for me," Peralta said. "I was trying really hard to throw the ball over the plate and I couldn't find a way to do it. Bad day."
McGee was next, Maddon confident the hard-throwing lefty matched up well with whatever the Yanks had in mind.
But after McGee struck out Jayson Nix, it quickly went bad. After being ahead 1-and-2, McGee walked David Adams to force in one run, then gave up a three-run double — well, it was three after the umps decided so despite fan interference — on a 1-and-2 pitch to right-hander Vernon Wells, who was 0-for-his-last-11 and in a miserable 9-for-87 slump.
"It's really frustrating, especially when you're so close to getting out of that inning," McGee said. "If I make a pitch right there or get the hitter before or even make the hitter before put the ball in play, we've got a good chance instead of having Vernon Wells up there."
But once again, it didn't work out as planned.
"That's been part of the gig this year," Maddon said. "We've been within a pitch of getting out of a lot of moments, and we haven't made the pitch or something has happened. That's the frustrating component, but you got to keep showing up, keeping believing in the guys, because I do."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]m.