NEW YORK — Many of the questions before Friday's game, as when the Rays play any opponent for the first time lately, were about their innovative and unusual plan of using a game opener and multiple relievers on a regular basis.
Manager Kevin Cash talked plenty and somewhat patiently explaining it, but the real answer came, again, on the mound, as the Rays pitchers, no matter the alignment, delivered another solid night.
With Thursday off and top starter Blake Snell on the hill Saturday, Cash was aggressive in going to the bullpen after Ryne Stanek gave them a solid two innings as the opener, using five other relievers. (Plus a sixth, if you count Hunter Wood, who served as a pinch-runner in the ninth.)
And pretty much through the first 127 pitches they threw, it was good enough to duel with Mets starter Jacob de Grom, who showed why he has the best ERA (now 1.79) in the majors.
But the last pitch did the Rays in, a Chaz Roe sinker that didn't sink enough and old Blue Jays nemesis Jose Bautista launched it for a walkoff grand slam with two outs in the ninth, saddling the Rays with a frustrating 5-1 loss.
"Didn't get the job done,'' Roe said. "Tried to get ahead with a sinker, but it got too much of the plate. I knew he was swinging there, trying to get a ground ball, get him to top it.''
Roe didn't get the inning off to a good start, putting Todd Frazier on with a dreaded leadoff walk. "It kills,'' Roe said. "Every time. Got to be better than that. Got to be able to get that first out.''
After trying earlier in the count to bunt, catcher Devin Mesoraco singled sharply to left, putting runners on second and first. A bunt by Amed Rosario moved them up to third and second.
But then Roe got pinch-hitter Dominic Smith to tap back to the mound. Cash intentionally walked lefty-swinging Brandon Nimmo ("No second guessing,'' he said) to load the bases for Bautista, who seemed at the end of his career before being signed by the Braves during the season, released, then catching on with the Mets.
Somehow, it was the first walkoff homer of the 37-year-old Bautista's storied career, having hit 336 before that, including 31 against the Rays. (The only major-leaguer to hit more before his first walkoff was Mark Teixeira, who did it with his 409th.)
"That's really surprising,'' Cash said. "That's shocking. We've seen him hit too many home runs probably against us the last couple years, and he's beat up the American League for a lot of his career. Really talented player.''
Though Roe gave up the homer that knocked the Rays back under .500 at 43-44, there were contributing factors.
One was the throwing error by rookie shortstop Willy Adames that set up the Mets' first run in the third.
"Our pitching was outstanding,'' Cash said. "We talk about it all the time, the one run we gave up … was an error. That just goes to having to be perfect and the mistakes. And that mistake ended up costing us a run. And it allowed for four more.''
Adames made some amends with a homer in the fifth that tied it.
The Rays had a few other chances. Most promising when they loaded the bases in the ninth with one out. But Mallex Smith hit a soft grounder to first that became a force out at the plate, despite a pretty good slide by Wood (his first since high school, he guessed) that the Rays challenged the call on and still weren't convinced of, and then Adames struck out.
"Unfortunately we couldn't find a way to score,'' Cash said.
Since the impressive 8-1 homestand against the Yankees, Nationals and Astros, the Rays have lost three of four to the two worst teams in the National League. They dropped two of three to the Marlins, then after an off-day in New York on Thursday, the opener to the Mets.
After Stanek gave the Rays a solid first two innings, Cash ran through Ryan Yarbrough for two (and the unearned run), just-called-up Adam Kolarek for one, rookie right-hander Diego Castillo for two, then Jose Alvarado to start the eighth and Roe to finish it.
"Look, when we come into these games, the National League games, especially when you incorporate the bullpen days in that, you're going to use some pitching,'' Cash said. "You're trying to get the right matchup throughout the entire nine innings.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.