ST. PETERSBURG — The Orioles’ matinee loss in Houston was on the televisions in the Tropicana Field home clubhouse Wednesday afternoon, so the Rays were well aware by the time they took the field that they had a rare chance to gain ground on the American League East leaders.
Which only made their poor performance in an 8-3 loss to the lowly Angels more frustrating in their increasingly fainter hopes to win the division title they covet.
“Especially the situation that we’re in right now, we’ve got to take advantage of these games,” catcher Christian Bethancourt said. “We’ve got to take advantage of those situations. And, simply, we didn’t today.”
Rather than move within 1 1/2 games of the lead, the Rays (93-60) stayed at 2 1/2 and are down to nine games remaining. Plus the Orioles (95-57), by rallying to split last weekend’s emotional matchup in Baltimore and winning the season series, own the tiebreaker, essentially adding another game to their lead.
Most likely the Rays will end up as the top wild-card team and No. 4 overall seed, hosting the second wild card and No. 5 seed — either the Astros, Blue Jays, Mariners or Rangers — in a best-of-three series, all at Tropicana Field on Oct. 3-5.
Aaron Civale put the Rays in an early hole Wednesday with the worst of his nine starts since being acquired from Cleveland. The hitters didn’t do much to get them out of it, going a dismal 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position, striking out seven times and leaving 11 on overall.
Plus there is another injury concern, as Luke Raley is headed for an MRI tube and a doctor’s office Thursday morning after feeling his left arm go numb and feeling weak after a swing in his first at-bat since a freak batting practice collision Saturday.
“It just doesn’t feel great,” Raley said.
Civale wasn’t sharp from the start and it showed, as he allowed a season-high six runs and lasted only three innings.
“Just felt like the command wasn’t where it needed to be,” he said. “I think the stuff itself was fine, but just wasn’t controlling the pitches, wasn’t getting on righties when I wanted to and just throwing too many balls.”
He gave up hits to three of the first four Angels, and thus two runs, in the first inning. Then he made a bigger mess in the second, getting two quick outs, then allowing a single, hitting a batter, giving up an RBI double and, on a 3-0 cutter, a three-run homer to Brandon Drury.
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“It happened fast,” he said.
Manager Kevin Cash decided the three innings, and 74 pitches, were enough for Civale, whose 120 2/3 innings are approaching his most for a season since 2017, when he threw 164 2/3 in the minors.
“Just battling himself,” Cash said. “Just didn’t quite have it. Fell behind guys. We didn’t help him defensively early on. Little uncharacteristic for Aaron. We’ve seen him battle himself in the past, but been able to kind of reset it. And for whatever reason (Wednesday), he could not. I know he got his (seven) strikeouts, but high pitch count, just felt like — he had more, but if there’s a time to freshen any of our starters up, probably now it is.”
Erasmo Ramirez gave up a two-run homer to Drury to get the Angels, who had scored only 13 runs total in losing their last six games, to eight.
The Rays had plenty of chances to score, rapping eight hits and drawing three walks, but didn’t do much.
Isaac Paredes notched his 90th RBI with a two-out single in the third, and Yandy Diaz blooped a ball behind first that the Angels played into a two-run double, giving him 75 RBIs.
“We got some guys on early in the innings and then their pitchers dialed it in and kind of sat us down 1-2-3,” Cash said.
“It felt like we had first and second opportunities multiple times, and we just could not move the baseball.”
It also felt like a wasted chance, especially as the Orioles blew a lead late.
“We were watching the game earlier,” Bethancourt said. “That’s why I said we’re in the situation that we are in, that they lost, and we just didn’t take advantage of the situation.”
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