NEW YORK — Pete Fairbanks needed a few minutes.
He had just given up a three-run walkoff homer to Tampa product Pete Alonso, turning a game the Rays had led in the ninth until Jason Adam faltered and again in the 10th into a crushing 8-7 loss to the Mets on Wednesday night.
Fairbanks needed to release his ample frustration, and he has something of a break-glass-if-needed plan: He heads to the batting cage, puts balls on a tee and lets it all out, the time needed relative to his degree of anger.
When he returned to the clubhouse, Fairbanks calmly discussed the sequence that led to the Rays’ demise. Taking over with a 7-5 lead and the placed runner on second — and with no issues from his previous forearm inflammation or blood flow to his fingers in cool weather — Fairbanks allowed a soft single to Jeff McNeil that put runners on the corners, then struck out Francisco Lindor.
He threw a first-pitch slider for a strike to Alonso, but he left a 97.9 mph fastball low enough where the slugger could reach it. He watched the ball go 416 feet to left-centerfield, and the Rays dropped to 32-12.
“He got it,” Fairbanks said. “Just a very unfortunate time to be the lesser Pete. We’ll get back out there (Thursday) and try and get him in the same spot.
“I went in the cage and hit some (balls) as hard as that one was hit and processed it. Now it’s time to get ready for (Thursday).”
Adam said much the same after he blew a 5-2 lead in the ninth.
His experience was even more frustrating. He started the inning with some mechanical issues, walking Daniel Vogelbach on four pitches, then getting ahead of Starling Marte 0-2 and hitting him two pitches later. Adam got two outs, then gave up a three-run tying blast to Francisco Alvarez.
“Home runs happen, so yeah, definitely more frustrated with the walk and the hit-by-pitch,” Adam said. “Those bit me more than the home run. Solo home run there, we still win that ballgame. But with two guys on, different story.
“It’s a tough loss. The hitters did a great job. All the pitching did a great job up until that point in the game. So, it’s a tough loss, but we’re great team, solid team. We’re going to bounce back and be ready to go.”
Adam and Fairbanks are the Rays’ top relievers in high-leverage situations, and manager Kevin Cash said they’re obviously who the team wants on the mound with a game on the line and would be out there again today in a similar situation.
“It stings,” said second baseman Brandon Lowe, whose two-run eighth-inning homer put the Rays ahead 4-2. “Nobody wants to give up any runs, especially Jason, especially Pete. … So we understand that they’re just as frustrated if not more frustrated with how this game turned out than anybody else in this locker room.
“So I know that they’re going to double down and figure out what they need to do to make sure that the next time they’re in a situation like that, we come out with a win and no runs scored.”
That the Rays were in position to win was a credit to a tag-team pitching performance led by starter Josh Fleming, though reliever Ryan Thompson also gave up a two-run tying homer in the seventh. It also was a credit to a resourceful offense that, despite striking out a season-high 17 times, scored seven runs. Lowe, who has looked better at the plate, and Jose Siri hit homers, and Harold Ramirez had a clutch pinch-hit single to put the Rays ahead in the 10th. They also stole seven bases, one off the team record.
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Fairbanks was pitching for the first time since April 28. He had been on the injured list due to forearm inflammation near his wrist, and before that he had issues with symptoms of Raynaud’s syndrome, which limits blood flow to his fingers in cold weather. Though temperatures were in the mid-50s Wednesday, Fairbanks said neither health issue was a factor. Cash said the staff checked with Fairbanks as he was warming up to make sure he was comfortable taking the mound and got a thumbs-up.
“I feel good,” Fairbanks said. “I’ve got my wool socks and obviously my turtleneck and all sorts of things that I’m doing for it. So that is not a crutch that I’m going to fall back on. I’m going to do everything to take care of it, and (Wednesday) felt good and just was unfortunately on the wrong side of things.”
Plus, as Cash said: “Pete Alonso is probably the wrong guy you want hitting in that situation. He can knock the ball out of the ballpark against anybody, and he did.”
As for the specific pitch? Fairbanks said, “It might not have been high enough since he’s a big old dude. I’m trying to go up, trying to get a swing-and-miss and go back from there.”
Alonso, a Plant High and University of Florida product, said the ending — the fourth walkoff homer of his career — offset the sinus infection that had hit him hard the last couple of days.
“Even though it sucks being sick, it’s always nice to be able to hit homers,” Alonso said. “As long as I’m physically able to play, my job description is a baseball player, and I want to play if I’m physically able to, to go out there. I felt pretty bad (Tuesday), but it doesn’t matter. I want to be here for my team and I want to help them when I can, and if I’m physically able to I’m going to go out there. That’s automatic. There’s no hesitation in my mind.”
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