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Wasted opportunities as Rays fall to the Rangers at home

Corey Kluber gets hammered in the third inning and Tampa Bay leaves 12 runners on base.
Pitching coach Kyle Snyder meet starting pitcher Corey Kluber on the mound after Kluber gives up four runs in the third inning to the Rangers on Friday night at Tropicana Field.
Pitching coach Kyle Snyder meet starting pitcher Corey Kluber on the mound after Kluber gives up four runs in the third inning to the Rangers on Friday night at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Sep. 17|Updated Sep. 17

ST. PETERSBURG — It was the chance the Rays had been awaiting. Bases loaded, trailing by a run, and reliable Harold Ramirez at the plate. With one swing, it could have been a walk-off or perhaps a shot at extra innings.

But in keeping with the Rays’ Friday night theme, it was another missed opportunity.

Reliever Jose Leclerc coaxed Ramirez into a game-ending fielder’s choice grounder, preserving the Texas Rangers’ 4-3 victory against the frustrated Rays before an announced crowd of 14,127 at Tropicana Field.

The Rays left 12 runners on base and were 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Still, the Rays (80-64), who have lost six of their last eight games, remain in control of the American League’s third and final wild-card playoff spot. They are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles, who were beaten by the Toronto Blue Jays.

Harold Ramirez reacts after a forced out with the bases loaded in the ninth inning.
Harold Ramirez reacts after a forced out with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

While the up-and-down nature of baseball was acknowledged by Rays manager Kevin Cash and his players, it has been trending downward for about a week. Cash said the Rays are capable of a better finishing kick.

“We’re better offensively than what we’ve shown here as of late,” Cash said. “There have been a couple of lopsided games where we had pitchers not get deep into the ballgame. I would say the last week or so, we’re just not totally in synch.”

Rays starter Corey Kluber (10-9) had acceptable length by going 5 2/3 innings with 90 pitches, but he was undone by the Rangers’ four-run third inning. With two outs, the Rangers put together five consecutive hits, including a two-run double by Corey Seager and a two-run homer by Nathaniel Lowe, the ex-Ray who is enjoying a banner season (.308, 25 homers, 71 RBIs).

“I think those were the only two balls with hard contact,” said Rays catcher Francisco Mejia through team interpreter Manny Navarro. “Those two pitches actually decided the game.”

Kluber said he only regretted one pitch, the 88-mph one that Lowe stroked 403 feet into the left-centerfield bleachers.

“That pitch caught a lot of the plate and he (Lowe) was ready for it,” Cash said.

It didn’t resemble Kluber’s last outing, when he allowed eight hits and six earned runs against the Yankees in two-thirds of an inning, but it still gives him 10 runs allowed in his last 6 1/3 innings.

That’s after a four-start unbeaten streak (3-0), in which he had a 2.16 ERA and went 6-plus innings in each start.

“Regardless of what time of the year it is, you can win or lose that day,” Kluber said. “You come to the ballpark the next day and you flush it and you move on to the next one. That’s the approach we’ve had to this point and I think we’ll continue to have it.”

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Rays shortstop Wander Franco reacts after striking out in the seventh inning.
Rays shortstop Wander Franco reacts after striking out in the seventh inning. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Mejia (3-for-4) was the most compelling offensive force. He had a run-scoring single in the second inning and an RBI double in the sixth, which cut the Rangers’ lead to 4-3.

Mejia was stopped at third on Jose Siri’s sharp single. Yandy Diaz’s fly ball to rightfielder Adolis Garcia wasn’t deep enough, but Garcia’s throwing error to the plate bounced away from catcher Jonah Heim, advancing Siri to second and giving the Rays two runners in scoring position.

From there, though, Manuel Margot harmlessly flew out.

And the Rays didn’t get another good shot until the ninth.

The Rays put the tying run aboard in the ninth inning when leadoff batter Diaz smashed a full-count single off Leclerc. After Margot bounced into a fielder’s choice to deep shortstop, Wander Franco worked a four-pitch walk.

Randy Arozarena then popped out in foul ground and Isaac Paredes was hit by a pitch, loading the bases and setting the stage for Ramirez.

“We had the right guy up there,” Cash said. “We just couldn’t find the hole.”

Ramirez’s bouncer was gloved by Rangers third baseman Josh Jung, who flipped to Marcus Simien for the force play on the sliding Paredes at second base.

“We scored (11 runs on Thursday at Toronto) and had trouble getting runs home tonight,” Margot said. “We’ve got to move on. Tomorrow’s a new day.”

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