Rays let a much-needed win slip away

Bullpen blows a 4-3 lead as Tampa Bay loses its fourth straight game

August 29th, 2019

HOUSTON -- Coming into the three-game series against the Astros, the Rays knew they had no margin for error against one of the best teams in the Majors.

The Rays got a taste of that on Tuesday as the Astros poured it on and took advantage of every mistake that Tampa Bay’s best starter, Charlie Morton, made en route to a 15-1 drubbing in the series opener.

On Wednesday, the Rays were much more competitive. But they saw a late lead slip away as Houston took advantage of their opportunities yet again, scoring three runs off Diego Castillo in the seventh inning that led to a 8-6 win over Tampa Bay at Minute Maid Park.

“Once you take a 4-3 lead against a team like this, you have to feel good, and with the way our bullpen has thrown, you have to feel good,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “It just didn’t come out tonight.”

After facing Justin Verlander in Tuesday’s game, the Rays were up for a similar tough task on Wednesday against Gerrit Cole, who entered as the AL leader in ERA. Cole was able to record 14 strikeouts, but the Rays scored four runs off the right-hander.

hit his 12th home run of the season, a two-run shot in the fourth inning that gave the Rays a 3-0 lead. That lead, however, was erased in the bottom half of the frame as Yuli Gurriel connected on a two-run home run of his own to even the score at 3.

In the seventh inning, the Rays jumped back in front as Joey Wendle led off with a triple and came around to score on a Jesus Aguilar single. But again, the Astros answered right back, scoring three runs in the bottom half off Castillo, who replaced after the lefty had thrown just 85 pitches in six innings.

“We just liked the matchup,” Cash said about the decision to take out Yarbrough. “They had a string of right-handers from Gurriel all the way to [George] Springer and [Jose] Altuve. I thought it slotted up pretty well; obviously, it didn’t work.”

Castillo walked the leadoff hitter, which has often resulted in disaster for the right-hander, and that was the case again. Aledmys Diaz followed with an RBI double to tie the game at 4.

“He’s behind on a lot of guys,” Cash said. “Depending on what lineup he’s facing, who can take advantage of it and who can’t, and this team certainly can. One through nine, they’re going to take advantage if they can. He fell behind on half the batters that he faced, and they made him pay.”

Two batters later, George Springer gave Houston its first lead of the game with a bloop RBI single that just went over the head of Rays second baseman Eric Sogard. Sogard then committed a throwing error that allowed the Astros to take a 6-4 lead.

“I was out there trying to do exactly what I normally do,” Castillo said through Spanish translator Manny Navarro. “They have a good lineup, and they went out there swinging and they connected.”

Despite Castillo's struggles to open the inning, Cash stayed with him to finish despite having Nick Anderson and Colin Poche warming up. Cash said he decided to stick with Castillo in order to keep the right-handed Anderson in his role, which has been the eighth inning since coming over in a trade from Miami.

“We’re asking guys to come in there, and that throws everything off,” Cash said. “We owe it to all these guys to show confidence to get through a leadoff walk, but when it snowballs like it did, it stings a little bit.”

Tampa Bay has dropped four consecutive games but finds itself still just one game behind Oakland, which lost in Kansas City on Wednesday, for the second American League Wild Card spot. 

The Rays, however, need to shore up a pitching staff that has allowed seven or more runs in four consecutive games and six or more in seven of the past nine in order to avoid the sweep on Thursday against the Astros.

"Obviously it’s going to be important for us to bounce back,” Choi said through interpreter Ha Ram (Sam) Jeong. “Yesterday we had a tough loss, and we had to win today, but it didn’t turn out well. Starting tomorrow, we need to come out and play well and beat them, and when we go back home, we also need to start winning more games.”