CLEVELAND — The margin for error was minute the way Shane Bieber was pitching for the Guardians Friday. Shane McClanahan knew the changeup he left up to Jose Ramirez in the sixth inning was trouble, and watching it barely clear the centerfield fence for a two-run homer — and take the Rays’ lead with it — was agonizing.
“That pitch,” McClanahan said, “is going to kill me for a little bit.”
As a result of the 2-1 loss in the opening game of the best-of-three American League Wild Card Series, the Rays’ season now is on the margin as well.
After battling through injuries, inconsistencies and adversity for six-plus months, the No. 3 wild card has to beat the American League Central champion Saturday to force a third game on Sunday and win again or go home early and frustrated. Tyler Glasnow will be on the mound for another 12:07 p.m. matinee.
“We need to be resilient,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I’m very confident in this group that they will respond the way they need to and compete and give us a good opportunity to win.”
Though McClanahan gave up the big homer, the Rays are on the precipice because of their impotent offense, which was held to one or no runs for the fourth time in the last week — amid six straight losses — and the 10th in 17 games.
“We’ve just got to keep doing our work, stick on to our routines,” outfielder Randy Arozarena said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “(Saturday) is a whole ‘nother day. Everybody in here wants to keep on playing and keep on winning. Everyone just needs to put in their grain of sand in order to continue to compete.”
In different corners of the Rays’ quiet clubhouse, there was similar optimism they can do better offensively than they have as they face Triston McKenzie Saturday, then Cal Quantrill Sunday in more tough matchups.
“Everything’s the same — try to just focus on making good contact and just staying confident at the plate,” an optimistic Jose Siri, whose sixth-inning homer was the Rays’ lone run, said via Navarro. “Just not let your teammates put their heads down. We still have two more games to go.”
To be fair, Bieber, the Guardians ace, was a big part of the Rays’ Friday falter, working 7-2/3 dazzling innings on a chilly gray day with a first-pitch temperature of 52.
In their 26 trips to the plate against him, eight Rays struck out and only four didn’t head straight back to the dugout.
Ji-Man Choi walked in the second inning, Harold Ramirez singled leading off the fifth for their first hit, Siri homered with one out in the sixth for a brief 1-0 lead, and Isaac Paredes delivered a pinch-hit single with two outs in the eighth to end Bieber’s day.
“He presented himself really well,” Arozarena said. “He had a great outing. None of us could really do anything.”
The Rays faced Bieber on Sept. 27 and scored four runs, all in the fourth inning, including a two-run homer by Siri. Bieber was better Friday.
“I think we’re confident knowing what he’s going to do, but when you just execute over and over and over, it’s just really impressive the way he attacked us,” Cash said. “You go back to the last outing that we faced him, it was a very similar outing with the exception of about three consecutive batters. So just a really good pitcher.”
Want more than just the box score?
Subscribe to our free Rays Report newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Bieber said the Rays helped with their approach after Siri’s homer with one out in the sixth. “It seemed like they were trying to take a couple swings to maybe duplicate that, double or triple that,” he said.
The Rays felt really good about the seven strong innings they got from McClanahan, who dealt with injury and inconsistency much of the second half following his All-Star Game start.
“I was really impressed, very encouraged,” Cash said. “His stuff was good. He mixed his pitches good.”
McClanahan scattered seven hits, struck out five, didn’t walk any and got out of whatever trouble he got into — until the seventh, anyway.
“Besides that one pitch, I feel like I did a good job (Friday) minimizing the damage,” McClanahan said. “If I gave up a one-out, no-out single ... I felt like I made the next pitch to help myself and help my team get out of it. I felt like I did a really good job (Friday) of attacking the zone and trusting my stuff.”
It wasn’t enough, given how little his mates did to help.
“Sometimes the bats just don’t want to hit, but we all go through these bad times,” Yandy Diaz said via Navarro. “We just need to keep a positive mind.”
And find a way to do more.
“I’m confident,” Cash said. ‘I am. Look, you go through tough pitching performance quite a lot in this league, and we saw one (Friday). We’ll bounce back.”
Or be bounced.
• • •
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.