ST. PETERSBURG — It has been a bad week for the Rays.
On Saturday they again fell behind early, and again lost to the Angels after a reprieve comeback win on Friday. They again lost at home, something that didn’t happen much last season, when they went 51-30 as part of their 90-win breakout. They need a win Sunday to salvage a split in the four-game series and make it a still-disappointing 3-4 homestand.
But here was the shocker:
Charlie Morton is human.
You heard it here first.
The sturdy, affable right-hander lost his first game of the season Saturday as the Rays fell 5-3 to the Angels at Tropicana Field.
Morton, 8-1, didn’t pitch horribly, but he made enough mistakes early, getting touched up for three runs and leaving after six innings down 4-0. The Rays, who had struck early all season (81 runs in games’ first two innings) are suddenly digging early holes, one reason they’ve lost four of their last six games.
Morton’s sluggish turn was startling given his start to 2019, which included a 2.10 ERA, second best in the American League, and consecutive wins in his four previous starts. He pitched seven shutout innings last week at Detroit and again Monday against Oakland. But his run of 16 consecutive scoreless innings ended in the second inning Saturday.
True, Morton didn’t get much help from his defense. After he walked Kevan Smith to lead off the inning, Brian Goodwin lifted a short fly ball to left-center, which was charged by outfielders Tommy Pham and Kevin Kiermaier — too hard, in fact.
The ball took a big bounce over their heads and went on its merry way toward the wall. By the time Pham retrieved the ball and got it back in, Smith had scored from first. The next batter, David Fletcher, snuck a Morton pitch over the fence for a 3-0 lead. In the fourth, Justin Bour homered to left to make it 4-0.
“That was the kind of game when you make a couple of mistakes, you pay for them,” said Morton, who allowed five hits and struck out nine. “They put some really good swings on those pitches.”
It just added to a week of misery for the home team. The Rays played .630 baseball at the Trop last season. Saturday’s loss made them 19-18 at home.
“I really don’t have an explanation,” Kiermaier said. “It’s one of those crazy stats in the baseball world that you don’t really know how to answer.”
Same goes for the early scoring turnaround, from the Rays to their opponents.
“You’re seeing two drastics right now,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Probably what we saw early in the season was a drastic, you’re just not going to score that many runs in the first and second (innings) normally. And right now what’s taking place is a drastic on the other side. We need to even it out a little bit.”
Another turnaround would be nice before the Rays travel to New York, where they begin a three-game series with the Yankees on Monday. With Saturday’s loss, the Rays fell into a first place tie with New York in the AL East, pending the Yankees’ night game in Chicago.
Morton has been the least of the team’s problems this season, particularly with reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell failing to recapture his form and the injury that has sidelined Tyler Glasnow after his hot start. Morton’s previous loss before Saturday was on Aug. 11 against Seattle, when he pitched for the Astros.
As has been the habit seemingly all week, except for Friday’s nine runs, the Rays’ bats couldn’t muster enough return fire. They did chase Angels starter Jose Suarez in the sixth after Yandy Diaz hit a three-run homer to bring the Rays within 4-3. However, Smith hit a solo homer in the eighth off Jake Faria to pad the Angels’ lead. Faria had been called up earlier from Triple-A Durham after a flailing Daniel Robertson was sent down.
Cash, for his part, pulled for the Rays to pull one out for Morton.
“He’s bailed us out multiple times, let’s bail him out a little bit,” Cash said. “I know the guys recognized that. We just didn’t today.”
Kiermaier pointed to his misplay in the second.
“That play was totally on me,” he said. “I was unhappy about it the whole game. I felt like that kind of changed things. (Charlie), he’s so unselfish that he said it didn’t have an affect at all. I politely disagreed.”
“Yeah, but then I gave up a home run,” Morton said.