ST. PETERSBURG — Fernando Rodney was covered in camouflage on his way out of Tropicana Field on Thursday night, part of the team's latest wardrobe-themed road trip.
But after the Rays closer blew another save in a 4-3 loss to the Red Sox, many of those 16,055 at the Trop were probably wondering where the dominating All-Star from last year is hiding.
After walking the bases loaded in the ninth, Rodney, one strike away from sealing a victory, gave up a bases-clearing double to Will Middlebrooks to erase a two-run lead and put a sour end on a 6-4 homestand.
"This game is difficult," Rodney said. "Sometimes, when you think you've got it in your hands, it's gone. That's how I'm feeling."
Rodney has blown three saves in 10 chances after blowing only two saves in 50 last year, when he set a major-league record for lowest ERA for a reliever (0.60) and finished fifth in the American League Cy Young race. While the Rays (20-20) don't expect him to repeat that feat, manager Joe Maddon acknowledged they need Rodney to return to form for them to be a contending team. Rodney said he feels the same. Maddon likes Rodney's "stuff" and velocity, but the command just is not there.
"I don't have any solid answers," Maddon said. "We've discussed different things with him, trying to get him to replicate what he had been doing last year more closely, and I think he has. I thought we had worked through it and all of a sudden this bit us tonight.
"I'm not really concerned yet. I'm not running away from Fernando. We'll get him right."
The finish spoiled a solid start by right-hander Alex Cobb, who allowed just one run and three hits over 6? innings. It was not as historic or strange as his last outing, when he became the first pitcher to strike out 13 in an appearance of fewer than five innings, but it was more satisfying.
"I thought he pitched really well," Maddon said.
The Rays offense could have been partly to blame for Thursday's loss as it squandered several chances. Tampa Bay left 12 on base, including the tying run at second in the ninth, along with leaving the bases loaded twice.
"It just wasn't our night," outfielder Matt Joyce said.
The Rays did score first, on a solo homer by Ryan Roberts in the second inning, and they added two runs later in a sixth-inning rally fueled by three walks. Desmond Jennings had a broken-bat RBI single and Luke Scott, batting in the two-hole for the first time in his career, had one of his three hits, an RBI single to make it 3-1.
But after Jake McGee and Joel Peralta handed the ball to Rodney in the ninth, it went sour. Rodney walked the first two batters, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. After getting one out, he walked Daniel Nava to load the bases. "You walk guys in a situation like that, you know sometimes you're going to get in trouble," Rodney said.
And after Rodney struck out Stephen Drew, he hung a changeup to Middlebrooks, who ripped a liner into the left-center gap.
"Normally he buries that pitch, and he left it up," Middlebrooks said. "He's a guy I've had trouble with in the past, so it feels good to get a solid hit off him in a big situation."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.