Sunday, February 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays find the way home blocked again in 2-1 loss to Toronto Blue Jays

TORONTO — The blood on Elliot Johnson's forehead, nose, right cheek and chin after his valiant attempt to score on the final play showed how close the Rays came to tying the score in Friday's game.

And the glum faces in the Rogers Centre clubhouse told the rest of the story. The Rays lost yet another one-run game, this time 2-1 to the Blue Jays.

"We just came up a little bit short," Johnson said.

Johnson did just about everything he could to score, breaking off second on a pinch-hit single by Carlos Peña and heading hard for home, leading with his right shoulder. But catcher Jeff Mathis corralled a strong throw from rookie rightfielder Moises Sierra, tucked his shoulder down and withstood Johnson's blow.

"I knew it was going to be close," Johnson said. "I wish I could have gotten a little better shot on him."

Having wasted a half-dozen earlier scoring opportunities and a solid, though abbreviated, start by Jeremy Hellickson, the Rays lost for the sixth time in their past seven games, dropping to 71-61 and 2½ games from the second American League wild-card spot. They remained 4½ games behind the AL East-leading Yankees, who lost to Baltimore.

More frustrating for the Rays, it was the 11th time they lost in their past 12 one-run games, something statistically hard to do.

"It's almost impossible," manager Joe Maddon said. "It speaks to great pitching … and I think we've played good defense primarily through this whole moment. It's just our inability to get the knock when we need it."

Friday, that meant going hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. The two times they did get a hit in that situation, the runners were thrown out at the plate. The first was Matt Joyce in the second for what would have been the first run.

Desmond Jennings gave the Rays a 1-0 lead with a homer in the third, and Hellickson gave it back. He allowed a homer to Sierra on the third of three consecutive changeups leading off the third, then one on a massive shot by Edwin Encarnacion on a misplaced fastball with one out in the fourth. Those were the 22nd and 23rd homers he has allowed this season, surpassing his total from 29 starts last season.

"I kept the team in the ballgame, but I've got to do a better job," he said. "I've got to keep the ball in the yard, for one."

Maddon pulled him one batter into the seventh — and after only 74 pitches — because he believed Jake McGee could do a better job at that point in the lineup, which he did, and the Rays eventually got one more chance in the ninth.

Jeff Keppinger singled for his third hit, then Johnson, who pinch ran, moved to second on Luke Scott's flyout to left. After Ryan Roberts took a called third strike, Peña, who was 0-for-17 and on the bench for a third straight game, laced a single to right. When Sierra had to jump as the ball bounced off the turf, the Rays felt good about their chances.

Moments later — and after just the second time in franchise history the tying run was out at the plate — Johnson had cuts on his face and enough of a headache that he was to have concussion testing and the Rays had lost again.

Said Maddon: "I'm not discouraged at all."

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