ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays came back a lot Wednesday, surviving the mess Shane McClanahan made at the start and overcoming two other multi-run deficits to get to the 11th inning against the Nationals.
But they still came up short, losing 9-7.
Diego Castillo gave up the decisive runs, on a first-pitch double to Starlin Castro, a bunt single and a sacrifice fly. And the Rays hitters, after wasting several earlier chances to add on, failed in the 11th.
But while disappointed with the loss, just the fifth in their last 25 games, and their American League-best record dropping to 39-24, the Rays took some solace in how they got there.
“It’s encouraging to see us score runs like that and kind of battle back a couple times there,” said Joey Wendle. I don’t think there’s anything we look back at that game with huge regret. I think we got beat. It was just kind of one of those (games), especially towards the end, just back and forth. And we were on the wrong end of it.
“... I’d put my money on our bullpen any day of the week. So I think we play that game again and we come out on the other end.”
Wendle certainly did his part, delivering two game-tying hits: His first career pinch-hit homer to make it 5-5 in the eighth, and a single that scored Randy Arozarena after he opened the 10th with an RBI triple.
But he might have had a bigger hand in the outcome had he gotten his hand on Victor Robles’ bunt in the 11th that Castillo tried, unsuccessfully, to make a play on. That allowed Castro, who doubled in the go-ahead run, to move to third, and score on Josh Harrison’s sac fly.
“I have to be a little more authoritative there in calling him off. That one’s on me,” Wendle said. “It’s communication that can’t happen that late in the game like that. Pretty crucial spot there and an out that we needed.”
McClanahan delivered a second straight frustrating outing, putting the Rays in a quick 2-0 hole, walking leadoff batter Trea Turner and allowing a one-out homer to lefty Juan Soto in a 29-pitch inning, and lasting only three on the night.
“A little disappointed, to be honest with you,” McClanahan said. “I felt really good out there. Just didn’t make good pitches (Wednesday), and it is what it is.”
The rookie lefty’s biggest problem was falling behind too many hitters, with first-pitch strikes to only 10 of 17 hitters, and 45 total strikes in 77 pitches.
“I think (what I learned) from (Wednesday) is the importance of the first-pitch strikes and how a first-pitch strike sets the tone,” he said. “I didn’t do a good job of that (Wednesday), and those are good hitters and they capitalized on the mistakes I made from having come into the zone when I was down.”
The Rays made up the two-run deficit right away, as Nats starter Patrick Corbin had an even worse first inning, as he walked the first three hitters — Manuel Margot, Yandy Diaz and Austin Meadows — and they all scored. Two on a 419-foot, 105.6 mph drive off the centerfield wall that Arozarena spent too much time watching and got only a single out of, the other on Mike Brosseau’s sac fly.
The Nats built a 5-3 lead on two homers by Ryan Zimmerman (off McClanahan and Jeffrey Springs); the Rays tied it on Taylor Walls’ first big-league homer and Wendle’s pinch-hit shot.
The Nats got two in the 10th, in part because manager Kevin Cash had Andrew Kittredge walk Soto to start the inning and try to get a ground ball from Zimmerman, which he did but not hard enough for a double play. (“Kind of pick your poison,” Cash said.) Yan Gomes’ single and Kyle Schwarber’s sac fly made it 7-5, and then the Rays tied it again on the hits by Arozarena and Wendle.
“We shouldn’t be frustrated,” Cash said. “We did everything within our power to win the ballgame. We had guys on base. (Kevin Kiermaier) had a great at-bat. We had the right guys at the plate at the right time. Big hits from Randy, from Joey twice. Very pleased with the way we went at it. We just fell short.”
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