ST. PETERSBURG — The Comeback Rays fell short Sunday afternoon.
After rallying from an early four-run deficit to take the lead, the Rays couldn’t close it out and were beaten in the ninth inning by the last-place Minnesota Twins 6-5 before an announced crowd of 14,165 at Tropicana Field.
With the tying run at third base, Rays designated hitter Nelson Cruz seemingly got a good pitch to hit off Twins closer Alex Colome, but flew out to centerfield, ending the threat.
“They got us today,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash, whose team leads the majors with 42 come-from-behind victories. “We didn’t do our best job of closing it down and shutting it down.”
In the ninth, right-hander Andrew Kittredge (8-3), the Rays’ seventh pitcher, hung a slider to Twins’ cleanup batter Josh Donaldson, who laced a one-out double, then went to third on a wild pitch. Donaldson scored on Nick Gordon’s up-the-middle RBI single against a drawn-in infield.
But the damage was minimized. The American League East-leading Rays (86-51) maintained their 7 1/2-game lead over the Yankees, who lost 8-7 at home against the last-place Orioles. Monday afternoon, the Rays begin a three-city, nine-game road trip against the Red Sox.
“I think we have high expectations for ourselves,” Kittredge said. “Any time we let a game like today slip from us, it’s a little frustrating. But at the same time, we’re good for a reason and we have a lot of resiliency. It could be frustrating a little bit, but I like our chances going forward.”
Right-hander Luis Patino, 21, was a big reason for that optimism. But after two starts on the upswing, Patino was battered Sunday against the Twins. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings, the shortest outing since his Rays debut on April 25. He allowed six hits, four earned runs and walked three, while throwing a wild pitch and issuing a balk in his 73-pitch effort.
“Luis just didn’t have it today for whatever reason,” Cash said.
But the Rays chipped away and took Patino off the hook.
Brandon Lowe delivered a two-run homer in the third — his 33rd of the season — and the Rays cut it to 4-2.
In the fifth, Cruz’s two-out RBI single finished off Twins starter Griffin Jax. Lefty Caleb Thielbar was summoned to face left-handed batting Austin Meadows (.193, one homer against lefties).
Meadows swung and missed twice, took two balls, then launched his 23rd homer, a two-run shot (giving him a team-leading 96 RBIs), into the rightfield bleachers and the Rays led 5-4.
From there, it became a mix-and-match bullpen chess match, usually a Rays specialty. J.P. Feyereisen, Adam Conley and JT Chargois combined for 3 1/3 shutout innings, bringing the game into the seventh inning.
Right-hander Pete Fairbanks nearly escaped. But after giving up a single to Byron Buxton and walking Jorge Polanco — then getting two outs on hard-hit balls to centerfield — Gordon singled home the tying run. Gordon’s liner glanced off the glove of shortstop Wander Franco, who was shifted to the right of second base.
“Gordon had a big day,” Cash said. “Pete’s working hard to find a way to have those clean innings. It just seems like a guy gets on and it snowballs from there a little bit. The hit, the walk, just a lot of traffic.”
Gordon, the son of former major-league pitcher Tom “Flash” Gordon who went 3-for-5, lingered afterward, visiting with family from all over Central Florida. But the Rays nearly ruined his area kid-makes-good story with a ninth-inning rally.
It didn’t begin well when Mike Zunino bounced into a double play, erasing Kevin Kiermaier’s leadoff single. But Lowe drew a walk, then pinch-runner Manuel Margot stole second base. Franco’s infield-single tapper put runners on the corners and brought up Cruz, who was traded to the Rays from the Twins on July 22.
Cruz took three balls, then a strike before flying out with the potential winning run on first and Meadows in the on-deck circle.
“I’m encouraged that the guys came back, but it’s frustrating nonetheless,” Cash said.
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