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Tampa Bay Rays don’t measure up well to Dodgers in costly loss

Dodgers 7, Rays 5: Snell’s solid return aside, it was a lost night for Rays as rookie relievers Poche and Fairbanks struggled.

LOS ANGELES — A Tuesday afternoon question to Rays manager Kevin Cash about the odd start time for Wednesday’s game — 5:10 p.m. at Dodger Stadium, 8:10 on the east coast — led to some chatter about how it would be similar for a World Series game.

“Maybe they’re prepping us and themselves,’’ Cash said. “That’d be great.’’

Tuesday, the teams didn’t belong in the same series nor conversation, as the Dodgers showed why they are one of the best teams in the majors and the Rays certainly didn’t show nearly enough. The Dodgers seized upon repeated Rays mistakes and relentlessly added on to create a decisive edge.

The final score in the Dodgers victory was 7-5, but it wasn’t really that close.

Some shoddy relief pitching by Rays rookies Colin Poche and Pete Fairbanks turned a 1-0 lead into a 7-2 deficit over three innings, and it took three too-little, too-late runs from the Rays in the eighth to reduce the final deficit.

"Tough one,'' Cash said. "We did some good things and we did some not so good things. They’re a really good team. They capitalized on every little mishap that we had. And that ultimately became the ballgame.''

The loss was costly, as the two other teams in the AL wild-card race both won. So that left the Rays at 89-63, now games behind the top wild-card holding A’s and only a half-game ahead of the Indians with 10 to play.

While there was some sentiment, and some merit, in the clubhouse about it just being another loss, outfielder Tommy Pham said the sense of urgency should be obvious.

"We’ve got to win,'' Pham said. "I’ve been saying it all month — we’ve got to focus on the right now.''

And he disputed anyone thinking otherwise.

"That’s bull----,'' he said. "We’ve got to play that right now is important. You never know when you’re in this situation again.''

The night started well, as Blake Snell made a dazzling return from July 29 elbow surgery with two impressive 1-2-3 innings, striking out four of the six batters he faced, working steadily at 95 mph and hitting 96 mph a couple of times. And the Rays grabbed a 1-0 lead without a hit thanks to Joey Wendle, who walked, stole second, went to third on a balk and scored on Willy Adames’ sacrifice fly.

That stood up through four as Snell and Oliver Drake worked on a no-hitter.

But then Cash summoned Poche, and the rookie lefty made a mess in the fifth.

Poche has had his issues, with both walks and home runs. After pitching three straight days in Texas, and extending his latest struggles, he looked like he needed a break, physically and mentally. The Rays gave him a long weekend off, but that didn’t seem to help.

He walked Cody Bellinger on four pitches, then hit Max Muncy with a full-count pitch. The two-run double he allowed to Corey Seager proved even more damaging.

Cash said he thinks the issue is mechanical. Poche wasn’t around postgame to offer his explanation.

Poche pretty much stands as the only high-leverage lefty reliever they have (although Drake can do a good impersonation). They are counting on him.

"He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do here,'' Cash said. "We need him to be good for us.''

A one-out homer in the sixth by September sizzling Ji-Man Choi, his 16th, got Poche off the hook by tying the game at 2-2.

But that didn’t last as Cash was going to the bullpen fast and furiously, which left him turning to Fairbanks for the seventh. And that turned out to be a bad move as the rookie righty allowed four runs.

Fairbanks’ first, and tone-setting mistake, wasn’t in throwing the ball, but in not catching it. He dropped a toss from Choi in covering first on a Muncy ball to the right side.

“I think (Choi) made a good play, a good toss. Then I took my eye off it for one second and looked like someone that hadn’t done a million (repetitions) in a half field in spring training and dropped it,'' Fairbanks said. "So I am 100 percent (certain) that was me. Whenever pitchers make errors, I think there’s some stupid stat about a lot of runs being given up and I managed to do that this evening.”

He did, as Kike Hernandez followed with a double, then Seager struck again, doubling in two more. Cash left Fairbanks out there, figuring he was the better option against the Los Angeles lefties, and he allowed a walk, got an out, then gave up another RBI single to Gavin Lux.

“I fell behind and when you fall behind, hitters tend to be better,'' Fairbanks said. "It’s where I was, not in the zone. Got behind in counts and whenever that happens you put yourself at a disadvantage and that’s what I did tonight. That’s not a reflection of anything other than not executing for an evening.”

Wanting to save Diego Castillo for Wednesday, Cash turned to a third rookie reliever, Cole Sulser, and he gave up two more run-scoring hits.

The Rays got three back in the eighth as Austin Meadows extended his career-high hitting streak to 15 games, former Dodger (briefly) Travis d’Arnaud singled him in and Jesus Aguilar hit a two-run pinch-hit homer, but it wasn’t enough.

"Encouraged with the way the guys came back,'' Cash said. "We put some pressure on them but just not enough. And probably a little too late.''

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.