ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays Foundation held a Casino Night fundraiser Wednesday night, but Rays players and coaches arrived late, primarily because of one reason.
They gambled too often on the bases.
The Diamondbacks pulled out a 3-2 victory in 13 innings Wednesday afternoon, thanks in part to a recurring theme revolving around Tampa Bay’s otherwise remarkable start: baserunning blues and one-run losses.
Tommy Pham got picked off first in the bottom of the 12th with one out, which might not have been the worst baserunning error of the game. The mistake, however, gave the Diamondbacks the opening they needed to win the 4-hour, 39-minute game.
Wilmer Flores hit a two-out single off Rays reliever Chaz Roe to drive home Eduardo Escobar in the 13th, putting a blemish on the bullpen’s 7⅔ innings of scoreless relief.
Of course, the Rays might have ended the game sooner if not for a series of miscues and wasted opportunities, including Pham’s blunder in the 12th and failing to bring home Willy Adames in the 11th.
The game’s most defining baserunning error occurred in the ninth. Kevin Kiermaier delivered a game-tying RBI and a baserunning mistake all on the same hit to snuff out a Tampa Bay rally. Pinch-hitting with runners on first and second and two outs, Kiermaier drove a shot into right-center that brought in Yandy Diaz, tying the score at 2.
Diamondbacks centerfielder Jarrod Dyson threw to third, but shortstop Nick Ahmed cut off the throw and relayed the ball to first baseman Flores, catching Kiermaier in a rundown. If Kiermaier had slowed at first, the Rays would have had runners at first and third and all the momentum.
Kiermaier explained that he didn’t see Ahmed, who made a heady play, and thought the throw was headed to third.
“The umpire was right in line with the shortstop,” Kiermaier said. “I didn’t even know the shortstop was there. I saw the ball going into third, and I was already pretty much halfway (to second) with a full head of steam. So I wanted to try to take the extra base right there. When I saw the ball cut off, it caught me by surprise. If I would have known that, I would’ve shut it down.”
Pham, who had reached third, tried to take advantage of the chaos, as instructed by the coaches, and came home. But catcher John Ryan Murphy tagged him out at the plate to send the game into extra innings.
It was just one of several scoring chances Tampa Bay blew in a bid to go 5-1 in its past six games, including loading the bases in the eighth with no outs but scoring only run.
Despite the defeat, the Rays (23-13) had already sealed their ninth series win of the season, but the close losses continue to sting.
“We got to find a way to score, and we just didn’t,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “They made some big pitches. We just couldn’t capitalize. You got to credit their bullpen. After (Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray) came out of the game, those guys did a really nice job of limiting opportunities for us.”
The Rays’ rally almost erased a strong effort by Ray, who grunted like a tennis player after many of his pitches and held serve for 5⅔ innings. Ray baffled the Rays, holding them to four hits while striking out 11.
The Rays had hoped to get an extra effort out of starter Charlie Morton, given that he was pitching on an extra day’s rest. And while the veteran didn’t pitch poorly in striking out eight, it was an effort best characterized as spotty: two runs over five innings and allowing the leadoff hitter to get on base in each of those innings.
From there, Arizona relied on Ray’s grunting effort and the solid relief work that produced 12 strikeouts.
As the Rays head into a big weekend home series against the Yankees, starting Friday, they are 0-4 in extra-inning games this season, 0-7 counting back to last year. They’re also 1-6 in one-run games.
“These one-run games can’t be the story line of our season,” Kiermaier said. “We’ve had some tough ones so far, but we just need to do a better job of focusing in on the bigger situations and drive them in any way we can.
“We definitely need to start winning these games when it comes down to crunch time.”
Contact Ernest Hooper at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @hoop4you.