The endings seem particularly cruel, like Sunday when the Rays lost 6-2 as the No. 9 hitter in the Mariners lineup, Shed Long Jr., hit a grand slam off Diego Castillo with two outs in the 10th inning.
That was the fourth time in the last five days the Rays had a walkoff loss, an ignominious feat that’s never happened before in their 24-season history.
But while the dramatic endings embellish the narrative, the bigger story is that the Rays keep losing, the six straight defeats their longest such skid in more than three years.
“It’s been a long week,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Certainly not good by results.”
The best team in the majors after Monday’s win in Chicago, the Rays headed home from Seattle at 43-20 and in second place in the American League East and hosting the division-leading Red Sox starting Tuesday. Of note, they will have top prospect Wander Franco, who is being called up, in their lineup.
Before and after Sunday’s game, Rays players insisted the losing streak is just a product of some bad breaks and an opportunistic opponent, part of the cyclical nature of a season, similar to how they earlier won 11 straight as part of a remarkable 24-5 run.
“Obviously, we don’t want to lose, but I’d be lying to you if I told you I was worried,” said rookie starter Shane McClanahan, who worked a solid six innings.
“I’m not worried at all. This is a great group of guys, great clubhouse, and we’re going to start winning. It’s just who we are. This team’s a bunch of winners. … It’s just been a couple games haven’t gone our way. But I know we’re going to get back to what we’re doing. And that’s winning lot of ballgames.”
But the many ways they are losing would seem to be of some concern.
Their offense is again flailing, hitting .198 during the six-game skid and, more damaging, going just 6-for-45 with runners in scoring position, as they were outscored 34-20.
Though McClanahan was sharp, the starting pitching has not been great, with the loss of top starter Tyler Glasnow an ongoing issue.
Their three highest-leverage relievers, Pete Fairbanks, J.P. Feyereisen and Castillo, gave up the winning hits in the walkoffs.
And extra innings remain a puzzle they can’t solve, as they lost three times during the streak in bonus play and are 3-8 overall, their inability to move runners a serious flaw.
Sunday, they looked positioned to end the skid.
They got the tying run in the sixth on a well-executed sequence by Joey Wendle, Brett Phillips and Manuel Margot. They took the lead in the seventh on doubles by Brandon Lowe (who got a break as former Rays minor-leaguer Jake Fraley misplayed the ball at the centerfield wall) and Mike Zunino.
But Ryan Thompson, who’d had nine straight scoreless appearances, replaced McClanahan and gave up a homer to Ty France on his second pitch. “It is almost shocking when you see a ball driven into the gap or into the air off him, because he’s been so good for us,” Cash said.
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The Rays couldn’t do anything in the eighth, ninth or 10th, the 11th time they failed to score in 18 extra innings despite starting with a runner on second.
The Mariners rallied in their half of the 10th, starting by taking advantage of Castillo’s misplay — or what Cash said was “miscommunication” — of Dylan Moore’s leadoff bunt, trying too late to get the out at third. After a fielder’s choice out at the plate and a walk loaded the bases, Fraley flew out before Long went deep as Castillo left a slider up.
“It was the pitch I wanted to throw,” Castillo said via team interpreter Manny Navarro, “and he just connected the way he wanted to connect.”
That was really just the final blow.
“We didn’t play good enough to win this game early on, middle of the game or late,” Cash said. “It’s magnified because it is a walkoff, or there have been walkoffs. But at the end of the day, it’s a loss.”
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