CLEVELAND — This is how things were going for the Rays on Sunday afternoon:
They were leading Cleveland by a run behind a strong start from Ryan Yarbrough and a go-ahead homer by their prized new addition, Nelson Cruz, and were six outs from completing a weekend sweep.
And the Red Sox, whom the Rays had finally pulled even with atop the American League East on Saturday after a month’s pursuit, were not only losing in the eighth to the Yankees, but being no-hit.
This is how things turned out for the Rays:
Matt Wisler, pressed into high-leverage duty with the bullpen shorthanded, blew the lead, allowing two runs in the eighth, and the game as the Rays lost 3-2.
And the Red Sox staged a dramatic rally with a five-run inning, beating the Yankees 5-4, and reopening a one-game division lead, with a showdown coming this weekend at the Trop.
“Obviously you never want to be that guy that comes in and blows the game and blows a lead,’' Wisler said “That one’s always tough to swallow. Especially a chance like today, especially this late in the season, where games really matter, and where we’re at in the race.’'
Though the Rays won three of four in Cleveland — and got to the 100-game mark with a 60-40 record, fourth best in the majors — the late turn of events, especially after a three-game run of winning in their last at-bat, had to hurt.
“Every loss stings,’' second baseman Joey Wendle said. “We have a lot of confidence going into the late innings with a lead. Even if it’s a 2-1 lead, we continue to have confidence. Yeah, losing a game late stings. But losing a game early does, too.’'
Both teams got first-inning runs, the Rays when leadoff man Randy Arozarena singled off Triston McKenzie and came around to score on Austin Meadows’ groundout, and the Indians when Cesar Hernandez launched Yarbrough’s third pitch over the centerfield fence.
Then it was a pitcher’s duel until the sixth when Cruz, the slugging DH acquired Thursday from the Twins, led off with a scorching 107.3 mph homer for a 2-1 lead.
The Rays decided seven innings, and 92 pitches, were enough from Yarbrough, who scattered five hits, walked one and struck out six.
“Just awesome,’' manager Kevin Cash said. “The leadoff homer and then after that just shut them down really nicely. Got us really deep in the ballgame, picked us up.’'
The Rays had limited options at that point, planning to avoid using higher-leverage relievers Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks and Andrew Kittredge due to recent heavy workloads. Drew Rasmussen and Louis Head were also down.
Wisler, who threw 35 pitches over two innings Friday, felt good enough playing catch in the outfield Sunday morning to deem himself available.
“I felt like I had enough in me today that I could go out there and get an inning for these guys,’' Wisler said. “Unfortunately it didn’t go that way today.’'
“Look,’' Cash said, “I give Matt a lot of credit for taking the ball. We were gassed in the bullpen. He wasn’t as fresh as we’d like to keep these guys, so that’s on me as much as anything, but appreciate the effort. He just left some pitches up, and the Indians did a nice job of making adjustments.’'
Hernandez started the rally in the eighth with a grounder to the right side that just eluded Wendle’s dive for a single. “Had I gotten a slightly better jump on it, maybe I had an opportunity,’' Wendle said. “A couple inches away.’'
Wisler then hit Amed Rosario with a 2-2 fastball, a product, he said, of throwing 10 consecutive sliders before that, as his arm wasn’t in the right position, an issue he has had previously.
A hard single by Harold Ramirez tied it, and a sac fly by Bobby Bradley, despite an impressive throw by centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, put the Indians ahead.
“Not ideal for today,’' Wisler said.
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