The week started going badly Monday, when the Rays lost top starter Tyler Glasnow to an injury that will sideline him most — possibly all — of the rest of the season.
By Saturday night, they had lost a season-high five straight games and their hold on first place in the American League East, dropping behind Boston. If it can be made worse, the losses have been cruel and painful.
The 6-5, 10-inning shortfall Saturday against the Mariners in Seattle was the third in the stretch that they lost on a walkoff hit and the second in extra innings. And it happened quickly, with Mitch Haniger singling in the winner on the first pitch from J.P. Feyereisen.
“Any loss is frustrating, but it is a little bit more frustrating when we’re right there with them the whole time and we just come up short,” starter Josh Fleming said. “It’s baseball. It’s going to go that way sometimes, and teams are going to go through slumps like this. And we’ll get out of it.”
Or, as catcher Mike Zunino said more succinctly: “It’s one of those things. It sucks. It’s baseball.”
What made this one perhaps even tougher was what led up to the ending. Down 5-2 after Fleming made a mess in a second inning capped by J.P. Crawford’s line-drive grand slam, the Rays battled back to get even with three solo homers.
Zunino, the former Mariner, hit his 14th of the season leading off the fifth. Manuel Margot got his seventh with two outs in the sixth. And Brandon Lowe had the most dramatic, delivering his 12th with two outs in the ninth, a brief sign that maybe things were changing for the Rays.
But they failed to score in the top of the 10th, unable to get Zunino — the runner on second as they had limited options for a pinch-runner — over. Manager Kevin Cash said there was “no point in bunting” being the road team, and Kevin Kiermaier flew out. Randy Arozarena got Zunino to third on a ground out, but Ji-Man Choi also flew out. The Rays are now 3-7 in extra-inning games.
“We’ve just got to do a better job of moving the guy, getting the guy to third,” Cash said. “We have watched that time and time again this year, and we’re just not executing. We’re not showing the adjustability with it that we’re capable of doing at the plate. And it cost us multiple times this season where just moving the baseball, getting the guy from second to third, gives us that much better of a chance. We just didn’t get it done tonight, and we haven’t been very good at that here as of late.”
Fleming did well to get into the seventh inning, throwing a career-high 110 pitches. But the damage was done in the second, after the Rays had taken a 2-0 lead.
Fleming allowed three straight hits, which led to one Seattle run. A walk loaded the bases, and though he regrouped for back-to-back strikeouts, he made the one pitch in the inning that he considered a bad one. He left a sinker a bit over the plate that Crawford laced, glancing off the top of the rightfield fence. The 109-mph exit velocity showed how hard it was hit; the 16-degree launch angle the lowest for a homer in the majors this season.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t think it was going out,” Fleming said. “I knew he hit it hard. I saw it skip and I was like … just ‘Damn it.’ ”
At 43-29, and a half game behind the Red Sox, who come to Tropicana Field on Tuesday, the Rays are still in good shape. But it hasn’t been easy to process following a remarkable 24-5 stretch.
“It’s been tough,” Cash said. “We don’t like to lose games, and we generally don’t put together these types of strings, this type of negative run.”
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