ST. PETERSBURG — There was so much the Rays did sloppily and badly on Tuesday, with a long docket of misplays and missed plays, errant pitches, wasted opportunities, and another blown lead.
But they did just enough right at the end to turn what would have been an ugly and frustrating defeat into an inspiring win, with Brandon Lowe delivering a three-run walkoff homer in the 11th inning for an 8-6 victory over the Red Sox.
“To be down in that game, it kind of felt really, really crappy,’' Lowe said. “We understood that we shouldn’t have been in that situation. We probably should have won that in nine (innings) if our defense had picked up our slack to play up to what our pitchers were doing.
“But it’s September. Any win that we can grab at this moment, we’re going to take it. We understand that we need to be better in every facet. So understand it, take it in, flush it, let’s go play tomorrow.’'
They took it, improving to 84-55 as they try to catch the American League East-leading Orioles, who maintained their 3½-game lead after beating the Angels 5-4 in 10 innings.
“We won. That’s basically what it comes down to,’' manager Kevin Cash said. “If we can find a way to win sloppy for the rest of this month, I’ll be really happy.’'
The game, which took nearly four hours, was sloppy from the beginning. Consider Rays starter Zach Eflin’s assessment of his five-plus inning outing, in which he allowed only three runs.
“I think the best way to describe it would be I felt like butt-naked stranded on an island somewhere in the middle of the ocean,’' he said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing tonight. I could not figure out my mechanics. I couldn’t get ahead of guys. ... So I had no idea where I was out there.’'
The Rays were up 5-2 going to the sixth, including scoring runs on consecutive hit batters. But then, as they had in each of their first four games of the critical final month, they let it slip away. And looked quite bad in doing so before a Tropicana Field gathering of 9,119.
After Eflin allowed a single and a double to start the sixth, shortstop Vidal Brujan, who had a rough night, grabbed a ground ball that was hit in the hole, but he made an errant throw to first, leading to a Red Sox run. Relievers Colin Poche and Kevin Kelly kept it 5-3.
The seventh was messier. After Enmanuel Valdez singled with one out, Lowe booted a hard grounder to second by Ceddanne Rafaela. With two outs, Justin Turner hit a hard grounder that Brujan got a glove on but couldn’t grab, scoring Valdez. Then Triston Casas popped a ball up behind third that Isaac Parades went back for, but Brujan raced over, too, and neither made the play, allowing the tying run to score.
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“That’s the things that happen in the game,’’ Brujan said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “You don’t want to say anything negative about that play. Maybe I thought I called it, but I think because of the sound of the fans, I don’t think he heard me. But there’s nothing you can do. That was just the game.’’
The Rays had a chance to go back ahead in the eighth, but with one out, Lowe lined out to left and Jonathan Aranda broke for third and was doubled off.
And they had a promising chance to win it in the 10th when Josh Lowe, who started the inning as the runner on second, moved to third on a bunt by Jose Siri. But Brujan struck out and, after Aranda was walked intentionally, Josh Lowe was thrown out at the plate trying to score on Christian Bethancourt’s flyout to shallow right to end the inning. “A hundred percent, send him every time,’' Cash said. “They made a nice play.’'
The bullpen kept the Rays in the game, but the Sox went ahead in the 11th. Fittingly, with some help.
Rob Refsnyder, the runner at second to start the inning, moved to third on a wild pitch by Erasmo Ramirez, the eighth Tampa Bay pitcher. Refsnyder then scored on a blooper by Luis Arias to shallow right that second baseman Lowe raced back, dove for, got his glove on the ball, but couldn’t hold it.
The missed play infuriated Lowe, which was somewhat concerning as he was due up second in the bottom half of the inning against closer Kenley Jansen, who was working a third straight day for the first time this season.
“It hit my glove, which really pissed me off probably more than it should have,’’ Lowe said. “Always have that notion that if it hit your glove, you should have caught it kind of thing. Watching the video back, seeing that (Refsnyder) didn’t tag up when I was juggling it, just really, really frustrated me knowing that I could have made a play there to keep that score tied.’’
That Yandy Diaz led off the bottom of the 11th with an eight-pitch walk helped.
“It gave me a lot of time to work out whatever demons I was fighting with at that moment to reset, refocus in and understand that all we got to do is get (Bethancourt, the runner who started at second) in and we keep playing more baseball.’'
Lowe insisted he had no vision of walkoff-homer glory, his second this season.
“I didn’t care who it came from, what it looked like, if it was the ugliest walkoff hit or sac fly or whatnot that we had, as long as we walked out of here with a win,” he said. “That was really all that mattered today.’'
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