BOSTON — The Rays had so many things go right to get to this point.
But because of some things they did wrong Sunday, and a terribly unfortunate bounce that led to a controversial but correct call, they find themselves one loss from what would be a stunning end to their season of grand expectations.
A 6-4, 13-inning loss to the Red Sox in an otherwise remarkably thrilling 5-hour, 14-minute game left the Rays down two games to one in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
They need to win Monday night at Fenway Park to force a Game 5 Wednesday at Tropicana Field. Of the 54 previous teams to win Game 3 in best-of-five matchups, 39 (72 percent) won the series.
“We’ve got to win (Monday); we don’t really have many choices,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “(Sunday) was a really big win for them and a really tough loss for us.”
Adding to the degree of difficulty, the Rays will go into the game with a limited number of pitchers available and plan to spend extensive time discussing how best to use them, with Collin McHugh and Michael Wacha likely to handle the bulk of the work. The Sox are planning to go back to lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who started Game 1 on Thursday.
Sunday’s ending was tough enough, coming on a two-run walkoff homer by Christian Vazquez, following a one-out walk, off Luis Patino, the Rays’ ninth pitcher of the night.
Worse was how they got there, wasting numerous chances to score (going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and leaving 10 on base) as they were shut down by Nathan Eovaldi and Nick Pivetta. They also were on the wrong side of a controversial, somewhat illogical but technically correct call that kept them from taking a lead in the top of the 13th.
With Yandy Diaz on first and two outs, Kevin Kiermaier laced a ball to rightfield that bounced off the 4-foot high wall, then off rightfielder Hunter Renfroe and over the wall.
Though Diaz would have scored easily and Kiermaier would have reached third, the umpires said that by rule — item 20 under 5.06(b)(4)(H), to be precise — it was a ground-rule double and they had no discretion to rule otherwise.
That meant Diaz had to go back to third and Kiermaier to second, and when Mike Zunino then struck out, the Rays had nothing to show for it.
“Man, that’s a heartbreaker,” Kiermaier said. “I can’t believe that happened or we don’t get the chance to score right there.
“For one, I crushed that ball. I was just hoping to see it leave the yard. I’ve got a lot of snap and crackle with no pop, first and foremost. And for that to happen right there, it just doesn’t make sense to me. But the ruling is what it is.”
Cash said there wasn’t anything they Rays could do.
“That’s just the rule,” he said. “That’s the way it goes. It was very unfortunate for us. I think it was fairly obvious that ... Yandy was going to come around to score, but it didn’t go our way.”
That wasn’t all.
After letting a 2-0, first-inning lead from Austin Meadows’ homer turn into a 4-2 deficit thanks to a disappointing start from Drew Rasmussen and a homer off Pete Fairbanks, the Rays rallied to tie in the eighth.
Rookie Wander Franco hit a leadoff homer, then Randy Arozarena ripped a two-out double that got by diving centerfielder Enrique Hernandez to score Meadows to make it 4-4. Arozarena collided with first baseman Kyle Schwarber, fell and had to stop at second. Cash said the umpires acknowledged it was obstruction but didn’t award Arozarena another base because “they didn’t feel that he was going to get to third base.”
Then in the 10th, Manuel Margot appeared to have second base stolen with two outs and Arozarena up, but Margot was called out for coming off the base. Replay upheld the call.
Cash agreed with the first of those rulings, but not the second. “That one was a little confusing,” he said.
Regardless of how they got there, the reality is that the Rays’ season — with an AL-best 100 wins and an East division title — is on the brink, needing two victories over the Red Sox.
Kiermaier said he addressed his teammates after the game, saying “if there’s any team who can do it, it’s us. You have to believe that.” Diaz said he was confident —- “10,000 percent” — they would.
“We’ve got to put our big boy pants on,” Kiermaier said, “and just come out and do everything in our power to try to win a ballgame.”
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.