Rays bullpen has big blowup: 7-run lead turns into 10-9 loss to Blue Jays

Willy Adames, Travis d’Arnaud hit three-run homers early to build a 9-2 lead, but it all slips away in a 12-inning defeat.
The Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. reaches up to celebrate his three-run homer in the ninth inning Saturday, July 27, 2019, as Rays catcher Mike Zunino looks down. [NATHAN DENETTE   |   Canadian Press]
The Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. reaches up to celebrate his three-run homer in the ninth inning Saturday, July 27, 2019, as Rays catcher Mike Zunino looks down. [NATHAN DENETTE | Canadian Press]
Published July 27, 2019|Updated July 28, 2019

TORONTO — The Rays can talk about how much faith and confidence they still have in their relievers, which they did.

And they can explain what matchups they were trying to get when they made a series of pitching changes in the ninth inning Saturday that failed them once again.

But in the ashes of what is arguably their worst defeat of the season, losing 10-9 to the Blue Jays in 12 innings after leading by seven in the sixth inning and four in the ninth, what they should be discussing most is clear:

What can they do, with the clock ticking toward Wednesday’s trade deadline, to improve their battered and beleaguered bullpen?

Unless it’s too late, that is.

This loss was about as staggering as they come, for July anyway, and the kind with the potential to have a lingering effect.

For a team that considers itself a legitimate postseason contender to be up 6-1 in the second and 9-2 in the sixth over a Toronto squad that is one of the AL’s worst, that game has to be put away. No explanations. No excuses.

“It’s a tough loss,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “I’m not going to rank what they are, but it’s certainly a tough loss. Look, we’ve got really, really good pitching, and when you get into a 9-2 ball game … you expect to win that game. And we did not.’’

The implosion — dropping the Rays to 59-48 and extending their slide from the top of the standings and back to third in the wild-card chase — was a team effort.

There was plenty of blame to go around, with relievers Hunter Wood, Oliver Drake, Colin Poche and Emilio Pagan all having a hand in it. And, ultimately, Cash, too, for putting them in those positions.

“It’s terrible,’’ Pagan said. “I think everyone in the bullpen will tell you that this is on us. It’s frustrating.’’

“Absolutely,’’ Poche said. “There’s no way around that. The offense scores nine runs, you should win the game, especially when you’re handed that big of a lead. That’s something we’ve got to nail down, and we know that. And we’re going to have to be better.’’

Three-run homers by Willy Adames and Travis d’Arnaud in the second put the Rays comfortably ahead, and the combination of opener Andrew Kittredge and Jalen Beeks got them through the seventh leading 9-3.

And then …

Wood gave up two homers with two outs in the eighth to the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, Brandon Drury and Teoscar Hernandez. That made it 9-5.

Drake opened the ninth allowing a double to Lourdes Gurriel, walking Randal Grichuk and giving up a three-run homer to Vlad Guerrero Jr. That made it 9-8.

Then Cash came into play, trying to get the “ideal” matchups.

He brought in lefty Adam Kolarek to face lefty Cavan Biggio, and Kolarek struck him out.

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With righties Danny Jansen and Drury next, and the right-handed Pagan warming, Cash instead made a somewhat unusual move to replace Kolarek with another lefty, Poche. Cash said his thinking was Poche was a better matchup against those hitters than Kolarek and better than Pagan would have been against likely pinch-hitters Billy McKinney or Justin Smoak.

“In theory, we liked the matchups that we had,’’ Cash said, “but they made us pay for them.’’

Oh, they did.

Poche struck out Jansen, but what happened next has happened way too often to the fastball-reliant rookie. Another costly home run, this one to Drury, the sixth Poche has allowed in his past 10 games. That tied it at 9.

“I know it hasn’t been the easiest stretch for Colin,’’ Cash said, “but he did some good things (Friday) night and then (Saturday) made some good pitches and really threw the ball well, other than the home run. It’s pretty uncanny what’s taken place.’’

From there, it seemed only a matter of time until the Rays lost. The ending came quickly in the 12th as Hernandez led off the inning and five pitches later led the celebration with a homer to center, the Jays’ sixth on the day. Though they had done plenty early, it also should be noted that the last 21 Rays hitters went down in order.

By the end of the long afternoon, they were left sitting in a quiet clubhouse, the frustration obvious.

“It’s a gut-punch,’’ said outfielder Tommy Pham. “We want to be in that position 1,000 percent of the time. When you’re up late in a game like that and you hand the ball over to your bullpen, that’s what we want. Unfortunately, we just didn’t get the job done today.

“Losses like this are tough. We have to do everything we can to get the momentum back in our favor because they can have a hangover effect.’’

Cash said what you would expect, that they still had faith in the bullpen and in their system, with Jake Faria expected to come up to at least add a fresh arm.

And that they wouldn’t “be reactive” to a tough loss in making a trade.

But do they really have enough confidence that this beaten up bullpen — one that is constantly taxed and shuffled because of aggressive use resulting from the opener/bulk-inning arrangement — can get them to the playoffs?

If the Rays front office execs believe they do, and don’t make any deals to get some experienced help by Wednesday, how much faith will you have in them?

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.