Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays lose 7-2 to Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — The Rays had some reason to leave Comerica Park pleased, heading to Boston after completing the first week of the season with a 4-2 mark against American League heavyweights New York and Detroit.

"If we play like that all year, I'll take it," manager Joe Maddon said. "I'll take it because I know the number of victories necessary will be there."

But they had reason to be disappointed, too, specifically in the way they failed themselves in Thursday's matinee series finale, a 7-2 loss they seemingly could have avoided.

"No doubt," first baseman Carlos Peña said. "We thought we had it."

The Rays carried two distinct advantages into the game: the momentum of Wednesday's comeback win, and the matchup with majors-debuting Tigers starter Drew Smyly. They merged in the first inning as the Rays' first three hitters got on.

But given that prime opportunity, they came up empty, their next three hitters — Jeff Keppinger (flyout), Ben Zobrist (strikeout) and Sean Rodriguez (strikeout) — going down quickly.

And it proved to be a preview of the their day as they left 11 men on base and went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

"It's definitely one of those energy shifts," Peña said. "We had something going, and then it gets shut down. They run off the field like, 'We got away with one,' and we're like, 'Man, we should have scored one run.' "

Even as Smyly got better, the Rays took a 1-0 lead in the third, on Peña's third homer of the week, but gave it back, and more, in a messy three-run fifth.

And when they got within 3-2 in the seventh, with the chance for more with runners on first and second and no outs, Peña made a huge baserunning mistake, "horribly" misreading a soft liner by Keppinger and getting doubled off second.

"The momentum was coming back to us," Maddon said. "You get the soft popup turning into a double play. Not only just leaves the runner at first base, but what it does to the other side, it energizes them. There's that sigh of relief. You're able to breathe."

The offensive issues weren't the only problem.

Starter Jeff Niemann was pleased with his initial outing of the season, allowing three runs on four hits and two walks over five innings and calling it "a great first start to build off." But he allowed the three runs in a fifth he described as "trying to get a little too fine" and Maddon cited a sudden loss of aggressiveness.

By the end, he pitched himself out of the game at 102 pitches (including 43 balls).

And lefty Jake McGee failed in another key situation, brought in with two on and two out in the seventh, the Rays within 3-2, to face lefty Brennan Boesch in a matchup Maddon said they were "the prohibitive favorite."

But McGee, who allowed the winning hit Tuesday, gave up a two-run single that pushed the game out of reach.

"Overall, I think he's throwing the ball really well," Maddon said. "It's just a matter of him getting the ball where he wants it consistently."

Overall, they could have done better.

"Disappointing loss," Peña said. "And now we have to get back on it."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays or follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.

 
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