The story lines that got the Rays to the final inning were totally different, but the endings frustratingly similar.
Wednesday afternoon in Chicago, the Rays rallied from a big deficit to pull even, then lost on a 10th-inning walkoff hit with Pete Fairbanks on the mound.
Thursday night in Seattle, the Rays led most of the night, then lost 6-5 on a ninth-inning walkoff hit with Fairbanks on the mound.
“Yeah, there’s disappointment,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I look at them as different games. (Wednesday) we come back from a five-run deficit. … (Thursday) we had a lead, and we gave it up. We don’t do that very often. The run we’ve been on, it’s almost surprising when it happens. So it is frustrating.”
Especially to Fairbanks, who started the ninth with the Rays up 5-4.
“We’ve got a good team,” Fairbanks said. “As long as I don’t blow it when we take leads into the ninth when given that opportunity, I think we’ll be just fine.”
Fairbanks was frustrated with himself Wednesday for throwing too many off-speed pitches. On Thursday he made a point to rely more on his fastball, but he didn’t have the command to make it work, which was clear from the start when he threw four straight balls to Dylan Moore.
“Four-pitch walks don’t work,” Fairbanks said. “Start off like that, things are probably not going to go well.”
Jake Bauers, the former Rays first baseman whom the Mariners recently acquired from Cleveland, singled. The Rays seemed to catch a break when Luis Torrens popped up a bunt.
But Fairbanks left a slider where Shed Long Jr. could line it to left for a double, scoring the trying run. “(Very bad) execution is what is was,” Fairbanks said.
Pinch-hitter Kyle Seager followed with a single to right to score the winner.
“I thought the intent was there, (Fairbanks) just couldn’t quite command the baseball,” Cash said. “Your margin of error is really nonexistent when you’re pitching with a one-run lead. He kind of put himself behind with the walk right there and then they had some good at-bats.”
The loss was the Rays’ third straight as they dropped to 43-27 and saw their American League East lead reduced to a half game over the Red Sox, who come to the Trop next week.
Thursday was also frustrating for starter Rich Hill, who allowed only one run through the first four innings, then a homer to start the fifth and a two-run shot in the sixth, with his night ending shortly thereafter.
The second homer, which cut the Rays’ lead from 5-2 to 5-4, was more painful since it came on a bad pitch (a hanging curve).
“It was the difference in the game, would have given us a little bit more space,” Hill said. “Obviously making that pitch, that falls solely on me. I take full responsibility for it. That’s what eats you up as a starting pitcher. You give the team a chance to win, you could have given them a better chance. And that’s something that’s tough to swallow.”
Hill was just as frustrated, possibly more, with the ball/strike calls by veteran home plate umpire Joe West. He felt there were several borderline pitches, and some more obvious that were not called strikes.
“I have no idea (why),” Hill said. “I just think that there were a couple that were not borderline; that were more than a ball (width) in the zone. If we’re going to approve (an automated) ‘K zone’ and claim that is accurate, we’re seeing something that obviously needs to be looked at. That’s the way I feel.”
Several times during the early innings, Hill had extended conversations with West, who last month set the record for most games umpired.
Were they talking about the strike zone?
“No, he said he’s going to send me a couple of his country albums signed, because he had a great career,” Hill said. “So I’ll be waiting for those in the mail.”