ST. PETERSBURG — On days such as this, you need to look for silver linings.
For instance, I bet the Red Sox are really ticked off now.
For three days, the Rays played some of their best baseball of 2021 against Boston. The seats at Tropicana Field were filled, Rays pitchers were sharp and hitters were knocking the ball all over the yard. Tampa Bay won three in a row and wrested control of the American League East away from Boston.
And as soon as the Red Sox left town, the Rays wet the bed.
Tampa Bay did very little right in an 8-2 loss to Seattle on Monday night, the fifth consecutive game the Rays have dropped against the Mariners this season. Even the box office was a disappointment with a puny crowd of 5,855 at Tropicana Field.
“It’s just one of those things,” said centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier who had a triple and a walk. “Came out (Sunday) night in prime time and a packed house, and then it was just kind of dead in the building the whole night (Monday) and we couldn’t create any momentum for ourselves.
“They had better at-bats from the get-go. Even when we were down five or six it seemed like a lot more than that because we weren’t able to generate a whole lot. Those things happen.”
Aside from infuriating Boston fans, the only other consolation was the Blue Jays and Yankees both lost Monday so only the idle Red Sox gained a half-game in the standings.
Still, if you’re into omens and portents, this game was not a good sign. The last time the Rays began a series against the Mariners, they had a one-game lead in the AL East. After being swept in Seattle, the Rays were staring up at the Red Sox in the standings.
“It’s one game; no one is worried about it,” Kiermaier said. “We just had a great weekend. These things happen. They were the much better team tonight and it showed.”
Right-hander Michael Wacha continued his yin/yang version of a starting pitcher for the Rays. Coming off a strong five-inning outing against the Yankees, Wacha gave up eight hits, three walks and five runs in 3.2 innings. It’s part of a disturbing pattern for Wacha, who has followed up every decent performance with a poor showing in the past six weeks.
“I do agree with your assessment. There’s been variance and inconsistencies in there,” manager Kevin Cash said. “The start before this was arguably his best start of the season and he’s put together a handful of those. It is unfortunate today that he wasn’t able to follow it up.
“He stayed out there competing, it just was not his night. And certainly not our night.”
Of course, it wasn’t all Wacha’s fault. His defense let him down with a pair of errors from second baseman Brandon Lowe and a couple of other shaky plays that are unusual for the slick-fielding Rays.
Tampa Bay hitters didn’t offer much help, either. The Rays were scoreless through the first three innings against Chris Flexen while the Mariners built a 6-0 lead.
It wasn’t particularly good timing for the Tampa Bay bullpen, either. With five of their relievers going on the injured list in the last five weeks, the Rays are running thin on available pitchers on the 40-man roster.
After the bullpen threw 11 innings in the three-game series against Boston, Cash was hoping Wacha could get deeper into Monday night’s game to give the bullpen a breather. Instead, Wacha had a 42-pitch third inning and was gone with two outs in the fourth.
Reliever Chris Mazza helped bail out the rest of the bullpen with a three-inning effort.
“The thing that sticks out the most is (not) getting ahead,” Wacha said. “Whenever I fall behind, I’ve got to come back over the plate and try to get a strike and get back into the count when the stuff isn’t as sharp as I’d like it to be.”
The Rays had gained four games on the Red Sox in the East in the previous four days, so going backward by a half-game on Monday probably isn’t the biggest shock in the world.
“We always come ready to play, ready to show up to try to put on a show for our fans,” Kiermaier said. “We were just flat. We were flat tonight.”
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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