ST. PETERSBURG — After the Rays battled back to tie the A’s in the seventh inning, Wednesday afternoon’s game came down to execution in the eighth.
Oakland got the hit it needed; Tampa Bay didn’t.
That was the difference in the Rays’ 6-2 loss, which gave the A’s the series and dropped the Rays (41-26) out of a tie for first with the Yankees in the AL East.
Ramon Laureano’s winning grand slam also spoiled another fine start from Yonny Chirinos, who followed eight shutout innings at Boston on Friday with seven solid innings against the A’s (35-34).
“Just another strong outing that gave us a chance to stay in the ball game and have a chance to win it,” manager Kevin Cash said of Chirinos. “We just came up short with the bats.”
They came up short early and often, finishing 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position and leaving 11 on base.
They came up short in the first inning, when they got nothing off of two leadoff singles. And in the third, in part because Yandy Diaz was picked off second as he third to steal with leading hitter Austin Meadows at the plate.
And in the fourth, when they stranded two more.
As the Rays kept leaving runners on base, Chirinos did his job to keep the game from getting out of hand. He allowed only two runs — one on a solo homer by Matt Olson. Chirinos pitched himself out of jams and tied a career high with seven strikeouts.
“Yonny did his job, for sure,” Cash said.
Eventually, the Rays offense did, too. For one inning, at least.
Guillermo Heredia drew a one-out walk and Hernando High product Christian Arroyo blooped a single past a sliding Laureano in center to jump-start things in the seventh. Diaz blasted an RBI double, part of his 3-for-5 day, over Laureano’s head to make it 2-1. After a strikeout and an intentional walk loaded the bases, Avisail Garcia’s infield single tied it in front of an announced crowd of 17,946.
But even that rally could have been better as Travis d’Arnaud struck out with the bases loaded.
Oakland didn’t make that mistake the next inning by succeeding off a trio of Rays relievers. Adam Kolarek gave up a single to the only batter he faced (Olson), then Chaz Roe followed by giving up a walk.
“That’s kind of been my kryptonite all year is the walks,” Roe said.
Things continued to unravel. Roe threw a wild pitch, then intentionally walked Robbie Grossman to load the bases with one out.
Cash ditched Roe for Colin Poche, who made his major-league debut Saturday.
“Putting a young pitcher in that position is not ideal,” Cash said.
Poche didn’t see it that way, even if it was only his third big-league appearance.
“Obviously as a reliever, those kind of situations are something you’re going to come into,” he said. “You have to find a way to have success in them.”
This time, Poche didn’t.
He got Laureano to swing at two elevated fastballs and kept trying for one more. But Laureano deposited the last one, which was lower, over the left-centerfield wall for his first career grand slam.
“Just didn’t get it up enough,” Poche said. “He was able to put a good swing on it.”
The Rays didn’t do enough of that in their half of the inning.
The frame started promising with Willy Adames’ leadoff single, but a double play ruined that. Back-to-back singles by Heredia and Arroyo kept hope alive, but Diaz struck out looking at a 99 mph fastball to end the threat.