ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Rays have talked a lot about the fun of being in the chase for a playoff spot as they head into the final two weeks of the season.
How for the couple of players who have been through it before, and for the majority that haven’t, it’s energizing, exciting and exhilarating, and those are just the “e” words.
They’ve enjoyed plenty of highs lately, but, as much as they hate to admit it with all the positive thinking they do, there are going to be some lows as well, such as Sunday’s 6-4 loss to the Angels.
Starter Ryan Yarbrough didn’t pitch very well, allowing the six runs on a season-high-matching 10 hits.
The offense didn’t do enough until it was too late, with two hits and a run in the first inning, then nothing else until Austin Meadows’ three-run homer in the eighth.
And the defense, not necessarily by design or default, seemed to be much of the day not where the Angels were hitting ’em.
As a result, most of the ground gained over the weekend was lost as both the A’s and the Indians won Sunday.
The Rays head into Monday’s off-day at 89-62, 1½ games behind Oakland for the top AL wild-card spot and 1½ ahead of Cleveland for the second.
“It’s not going to be easy for any of the teams,’’ centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “There’s going to be ups and downs these next two weeks, just like there were the whole season. But you have to make sure you have more ups than downs, to be quite honest.’’
Also helpful is the perspective of knowing they still have 11 more games. That’s two at Dodger Stadium, four against the Red Sox and two against the Yankees at home, then three in Toronto to wrap up the regular season.
“Without a doubt, every game matters,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s magnified at this point, and for good reason. Losses are a tick more frustrating, wins are a tick more exciting. But we get to come back and enjoy our day off in L.A. and play a really good baseball team.”
Having won the first two games against the Angels, the Rays came out Sunday looking for the sweep, and they struck quickly for a run.
But Yarbrough wasn’t sharp, and it showed, as the Angels tied it in the first, went ahead 3-1 in the second and opened the lead to 6-1 on a three-run homer by Albert Pujols in the fifth, his 656th, No. 6 on the all-time list.
“All in all, it was a struggle to get going today, and it’s one of those tough outings that you try and forget, and you realize you kind of let the team down a little bit,’’ Yarbrough said.
“You want to go out and help your team win a ball game and (I) just didn’t do that in any way today, so it’s a little tough.’’
The Angels didn’t hit balls overly hard against Yarbrough, but they placed them well, which the lanky lefty acknowledged “can get kind of frustrating.’’
Pujols dropped a fly ball in near the rightfield line to knock in the first run. Jared Walsh’s RBI double was a drive to left that spun Meadows around. David Fletcher blooped a ball into shallow left to score the go-ahead run. There were a couple of ground balls that shortstop Willy Adames got to but couldn’t make plays on.
“That’s kind of the way baseball goes sometimes,’’ Meadows said. “Hitters get lucky. We’ve been there. I’ve been there, too. You obviously take the bloops as hitters. They were able to find holes today, especially early on. It is what it is.’’
Cash absolved the defense of blame.
“They’re all hits; there wasn’t one play that we looked up and thought we should’ve made that play,’’ he said. “They hit some balls hard and then they also found some grass in between defenders. Yarbs is totally capable of getting through some of those hits that find their way in there, he just didn’t today.”
The hitters didn’t do much to help.
After averaging six-plus runs a game for nearly three weeks , the Rays cooled a bit in Saturday’s 3-1 win and were downright cold on the steamy Sunday afternoon. They went 21 plate appearances without a hit, from Avisail Garcia’s single in the first inning until Adames’ single to lead off the eighth ahead of Meadows’ 31st homer.
That made it 6-4, and they had a chance to come all the way back after Garcia singled with two outs to bring the tying run to the plate. Cash sent up lefty Ji-Man Choi to pinch-hit, and the Angels went to closer Hansel Robles, whose entrance is quite a spectacle with the funereal music used by pro wrestler The Undertaker and an accompanying video, and he prevailed with a strikeout. Joey Wendle walked to lead off the ninth, but the Rays couldn’t do anything then either.
Kiermaier compared the tight games with the playoff berth on the line to the tenseness of playing in extra innings.
“We come to the field each and every day like we have all year to try and win ball games. It’s just now, I don’t know if ‘the pressure’s on’ are the right words, but the pressure’s on the other teams as well,’’ he said. “All three (playoff-contending teams), we’re all trying to play the best baseball to end the year to get to where we want to be. … May the best two teams advance, and we would like to think we’re going to be one of those two teams.’’
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.ere.