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Rays falter again in loss to Rangers, drop out of top wildcard spot

Rangers 6, Rays 4: Mistakes on the mound and in the field, missed opportunities at the plate all prove to be costly.
Tampa Bay Rays catcher Mike Zunino, right, waits as as Brendan McKay, center left, turns the ball over to manager Kevin Cash, center right, during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) [TONY GUTIERREZ | AP]
Updated Sep. 13

ARLINGTON, Texas — The game the Rays lost 6-4 Thursday certainly seemed frustrating enough.

They helped the Rangers too much with pitches that weren’t on the spot and plays in the field that were missed or messed up, and they wasted way too many opportunities for a team that talks about being on a mission to make the playoffs.

But the bigger loss might have been the momentum they had.

And their place atop the AL wild card race.

After a 10-1 run that carried them to the top spot and maintained their hold, and the homefield advantage for the Oct. 2 wild-card game that goes with it, the Rays lost on consecutive nights to a Rangers team that just got back to .500.

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That dropped them to 87-61 and a half-game behind the A’s, who beat the West-leading Astros for a third straight day. Of potential greater concern, the Rays are only a half-game ahead of the Indians, who were off and host a key weekend series starting Friday with the Central-leading Twins.

"Everything’s magnified right now so they definitely sting,'' Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "But we don’t have time to worry about it too much because now we have to get on a plane and go have a good series against (the Angels).''

The Rays had much to regret Thursday.

In the second, they had four straight singles but got only one run as Daniel Robertson, Mike Zunino and Avisail Garcia made three straight outs with the bases loaded.

"We didn’t put the ball in play,'' Cash said. "You don’t want to sound greedy, but bases loaded no outs to come away with one, we’ve got to find a way to get some more.''

They got three in the fifth, with a prime chance for more with two on and no outs, but came up short again. Nate Lowe and Matt Duffy struck out, then after Joey Wendle singled to load the bases, Robertson flied out.

"We just didn’t move the baseball,'' Cash said. "We had the matchups we wanted.''

The defense had its disappointing moments, too.

Robertson had a tough time filling in at short for Willy Adames, with one error and a couple missed plays. Starter Brendan McKay didn’t field a bunt cleanly. Garcia made an errant throw from center. Zunino didn’t handle a bounced pitch from Pete Fairbanks that scored a run.

"Our defense has been tremendous all year,'' Cash said. "It didn’t really show up.''

Robertson said several Rays infielders felt there was “something was weird” about the background and how they were seeing the ball.

"No excuses, that’s just the way it goes,'' he said.

There was some good as Ji-Man Choi broke the team record by reaching in 10 consecutive plate appearances over two games.

Coming off a two-homer, three-walk game Wednesday, Choi singled, then walked his next four times up. The team record had been nine, done three times previously, and by an eclectic group: B.J. Upton in 2011, Logan Forsythe 2015, Tim Beckham 2016.

The Rays have been boasting humbly about their resolve and ability to come back in games, and they tested that again Thursday.

A 1-1 tie became a 5-1 deficit after a messy fourth inning in which a combination of ineffective pitching and unimpressive defense cost them.

The Rangers’ rally started with a one-out single by Jose Trevino that eluded Robertson. Next was the bunt single McKay didn’t field smoothly, and Delino DeShields was safe on a replay reversal.

Fairbanks took over and made it worse. He allowed an RBI single to Elvis Andrus, and an errant throw by Garcia set the Rangers up for more. They got one when on Fairbanks’ wild pitch, then two more on a homer by Nick Solak, a former Rays prospect who was traded in July for Fairbanks and seems to want to make sure the Rays regret it, going 6-for-11 in the series with two homers and four RBI.

"Anytime somebody takes a 100 mile-an-hour fastball out over the plate out of the park, hat’s off,'' Fairbanks said. "He’s on a tear right now, what can you say. ... Hopefully he hits the A’s (who face the Rangers next) like he hits us. As long as he can do that, I’ll buy him as many steaks as he wants.''

The Rays then made their comeback in the fifth but came up a run short. Zunino singled and Garcia walked, then Austin Meadows doubled them both in, pushing his team-leading RBI total to 82. Tommy Pham singled in Meadows to make it 5-4.

They were hoping for more good things from rookie McKay, who made an encouraging return to the majors last Friday after a brief demotion and a short stint on the injured list due to shoulder inflammation.

The reality was just okay.

McKay lasted only an out into the fourth, having allowed six hits and two walks that led to three runs, though two scoring after he left.

McKay though he did okay, Cash not so much.

"I didn’t think he was very sharp really at all today,'' he said. "For whatever reason, the command wasn’t there.''

The Rays hadn’t lost two straight games since Aug. 27-28.

Cash was asked if the two they just did could take away their momentum.

"No,'' he said. "I hope not. It shouldn’t. We’ve played really, really good baseball over the last two weeks. We had a little hiccup, speed bump, right here. We have a chance to go into Anaheim now and kind of fix that. We have to fix it ultimately. We don’t have time. We’ve got to get going.''

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Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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