ARLINGTON, Texas —The Rays thought Monday was going badly when the team bus was involved in a minor accident on the way to the stadium, Jeremy Hellickson's 26th birthday turned into a bash for the Rangers, they were on the wrong side of the good defense and they extending their perplexing hitless streak with the bases loaded.
And then came the unexpected ending of the extremely frustrating 5-4 loss to Texas.
Joe Nathan's full-count pitch to Ben Zobrist — with a man on and Evan Longoria on deck — was both low and outside, but home plate umpire Marty Foster called it strike three.
Zobrist, the most mild-mannered of the Rays, took off his helmet and expressed his shock. Several other Rays, including James Loney, showed their disbelief and disgust. And manager Joe Maddon went straight for outrage, confronting Foster as he walked off the field and continuing for several minutes.
Calmer a few minutes later in his office, Maddon was still both shocked and upset.
"Without getting to really unload my brain right now, which I am very tempted to do, all I want to say is that cannot happen in a major-league baseball game," he said.
Foster initially told Maddon it was a better pitch than it looked because catcher A.J. Pierzynski didn't handle it well. But after watching a replay in the umpires' room. Foster admitted that he blew it.
"I saw the pitch and of course don't have the chance to do it again," Foster said, "but had I had a chance to do it again I wouldn't call that pitch a strike."
As vehemently as Maddon protested, crew chief Tim Welke said he didn't foresee any disciplinary action for him, and Foster said he understood.
"Joe was not violent," Foster said. "Joe was very professional. He was frustrated. … He acted probably the best he can under that situation."
Zobrist said he was shocked at the moment, though he sounded somewhat understanding afterward.
"It was a tough time to have a bad call," he said. "I just hope it doesn't end up costing us the playoffs in the end. I know it's the first week of the season. But every win is important. And we might have had a chance to win that one. But everybody makes mistakes. So what are you going to do?"
Nathan said he also was surprised: "I think I might have been the last guy on the field to realize the game was over."
The Rays (3-4) did well just to make it that close.
Hellickson was not sharp over his five innings, throwing 30 pitches in the first, 52 through two and 98 for the day, allowing a first-inning run that wasn't all his fault as Sam Fuld got a late break on a ball, and two in the fourth that totally were, back-to-back homers by Pierzynski and Mitch Moreland. The bullpen gave up two more, and all five were allowed with two outs, making for a staggering 24 of 38 for the season.
Still the Rays came back with two in the eighth then another in the ninth when Jose Molina singled, stole — yes, stole — second and scored on Sean Rodriguez's two-out single, but no more as Zobrist was called out.
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Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.