ST. PETERSBURG — On a “Dog Day” afternoon at Tropicana Field, the Rays dug themselves a modest hole, but were powerless to escape. The Rays managed just five hits — all singles — in Sunday’s 2-0 defeat against the Detroit Tigers before an announced crowd of 17,948 (and several hundred dogs accompanying their owners in the leftfield upper deck).
The Rays (92-58) inched closer to the playoffs — their magic number for the postseason was reduced to three after the Yankees’ defeat — but their American League East lead shrunk to 6 1/2 games (the closest since Sept. 3) over the Red Sox (the AL East-clinching magic number remained at six).
Opportunities were sparse and the Rays were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, making them 0-for-11 with RISP in the last two games against the Tigers.
It was a hard-luck defeat for Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan (9-6), who allowed only a two-out, fourth-inning solo home run to Eric Haase while striking out seven (one off his career high) in his first start after coming off the injured list (low back tightness). The Tigers also got a seventh-inning solo homer from Dustin Garneau off reliever Nick Anderson.
Rays manager Kevin Cash credited the Tigers’ pitching, starting with Wily Peralta (4-3), who allowed only three hits over seven innings.
“We probably expanded with (Peralta) more, missed some pitches that we were capable of hitting, including some we were not capable of hitting,” Cash said. “It allowed him to get really deep in the ballgame and their bullpen came in and did a really good job to just shut us down.”
After being silenced through most of the game, the Rays made mild noise in the late innings.
In the eighth, Mike Zunino led off with his third single of the game. Two outs later, when the Tigers chose right-hander Jason Foley to face Nelson Cruz, the first two offerings were wild pitches, sending Zunino to third. Cruz walked and Kevin Kiermaier entered as a pinch-runner.
But with Ji-Man Choi up representing the go-ahead run, Kiermaier was thrown out trying to steal second base, ending the mini-threat.
“If KK feels he has a chance to get closer to scoring position, we’re going to trust his decision-making,” Cash said. “(Garneau) made a tremendous throw and it looked like the infielder (shortstop Niko Goodrum) caught his shin or foot and he couldn’t get to the bag.
“It’s unfortunate the way it happened. I’m okay with everything that took place. I just wish we would’ve found a way to have been safe.”
In the ninth, Joey Wendle smacked a two-out single off Kyle Funkhouser, bringing up Yandy Diaz as the tying run. Diaz slammed a 1-1 sinker deep to rightfield … but right at Robbie Grossman, who reached up and caught it at the top of the wall.
“I didn’t think it was a homer off the bat,” Cash said. “I was hoping it was going to get off the wall. But they’re playing no-doubles very, very deep and (Grossman) was almost camped right there. Unfortunately for Yandy, he squared it up about as good as you can.”
It was the story of the Rays’ offense — just not enough.
On the positive side, McClanahan’s first start since Sept. 8 was encouraging.
“He looked the part, no issues with the back whatsoever, which is a good sign,” Cash said. “The velocity picked up a little bit. Shane doesn’t have to throw 100 miles an hour to have success. But when you see the velocity turn in a good direction, that’s a good sign. He was pretty electric through five innings.”
As he likely prepares for the No. 1 starter role in the postseason, McClanahan said his injury list stint could be a blessing. He feels fresh.
“You have to understand that it’s a long season,” McClanahan said. “You’ve got to crush things when they’re small, so they can’t grow to become bigger problems. I felt great today.”
McClanahan had everything working — except run support. But September overall hasn’t been kind (8-10 overall). The Rays have lost seven of their last 11 games.
“It’s sort of tough for us to get on a roll right now,” Zunino said. “You have one game where the at-bats are solid. The next day, not so much. That comes in due time.
“When those tough stretches happen at the end of September, they get magnified. We’ve got to make quick adjustments. We’ve got a tough opponent (Blue Jays) coming in. We’ve got to bring some energy and hopefully play our style of game.”
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