ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays claimed to put the after-effects of their marathon loss to the Red Sox behind them, but the residual impact was obvious in the ninth inning Monday night.
An early three-run lead gone and an important game against the Yankees tied, they had to send Alex Torres, a 23-year-old making his unexpected major-league debut, to the mound as the only available reliever.
It didn't work out too well.
Torres walked in the deciding run as the Rays lost again, 5-4 to the Yankees, dropping eight games behind first-place Boston and 6½ off the wild card.
"It's not a very optimal position," manager Joe Maddon said. "But, believe me, I'm not losing any kind of hope on this one."
Torres' pitching wasn't the only problem before a Tropicana Field crowd of 22,471, as the Rays took a 4-1 lead in the second. But they failed to add on for rookie starter Alex Cobb then let the Yankees back in, with Cesar Ramos and closer Kyle Farnsworth allowing two runs that tied it in the eighth.
While the game didn't have the zaniness of their previous day's odyssey, it had its moments. Specifically, an 18-minute delay during the top of the fifth when a bank of lights along the first-base line went out after lightning struck a power line from a nearby substation, which, indirectly, may have affected the outcome.
Torres, who woke up Monday in Rochester, N.Y., a Durham Bull, and was again by the end of the night as he was optioned back, insisted he wasn't unnerved or overwhelmed by the situation. "I feel like a big-leaguer tonight," he said, with clubhouse staffer Jose Fernandez translating. "I didn't feel any rookie sensation.''
Torres has a tremendous arm, but his inability to throw consistent strikes with his fastball has been his biggest drawback. The Rays were well aware but made a strategic decision that made the tough spot he was in worse.
After Curtis Granderson singled, stole second after Mark Teixeira struck out and went to third on Robinson Cano's ground out, Maddon had Nick Swisher intentionally walked.
His thinking was that Swisher was a dangerous threat, especially hitting right-handed (.326 average, .928 OPS) and he "felt comfortable" putting him on with another base still open. "I thought we had to walk Swisher there,'' Maddon said.
But doing so reduced Torres' margin for error. He walked the next hitter, Andruw Jones, on five pitches, some of which Maddon insisted were borderline. Torres got ahead of Russell Martin with strike one, but eventually the count went full and ball four forced in the run.
"The circumstances of his debut were not easy,'' Maddon said. "Honestly, I thought he did great.''
Maddon made another decision earlier that forced the issue, taking Cobb out after six innings and 99 pitches, requiring him to use his only three other available relievers — Joel Peralta, Ramos and Farnsworth — in the seventh and eighth, and thus Torres.
Maddon acknowledged Cobb could have gone longer, but he was concerned that he sat through two long delays, the one with the lights (after Yanks manager Joe Girardi refused to resume play until they came back on), then with the Rays having a long, but unfruitful, sixth. If not for the lights, Maddon said Cobb "could have'' stayed in.