Misplay brings weekend to a sloppy finish

May 23rd, 2022

BALTIMORE -- The Rougned Odor dribbler that finally sank the Rays on Sunday didn’t go down as an error, despite skipping under Ji-Man Choi’s glove to send Tampa Bay to its soggy, sloppy 7-6 walk-off loss to the Orioles. But it was a somewhat fitting end to a difficult weekend that saw the Rays weather injuries to three more key players, endure two late-inning meltdowns and, on Sunday, watch a four-run lead evaporate for the first time this season amid defensive lapses.

“Uncharacteristic,” was how manager Kevin Cash described it. “The best we can do is get back to work and clean that up. We pride ourselves on securing the baseball and getting as many outs as we can for our pitchers, and I didn’t think we did that today.”

Playing most of the day without infield regulars Wander Franco and Yandy Díaz, the Rays committed three errors and at least two other costly misplays to feed Baltimore’s second come-from-behind walk-off win in three days. The final sequence was a do-or-die play for Choi, who missed the long hop as Adley Rutschman scampered home on what went down as a game-ending fielder’s choice. But Tampa Bay was only in that position after Randy Arozarena and Vidal Bruján made errors to open the door for Baltimore in the seventh, and a Kevin Kiermaier non-error on a catchable ball began the Orioles’ game-tying rally in the ninth.

“We don’t usually make mistakes like that,” Choi said, through interpreter Daniel Park. “We have a lot of games left, so we’re trying to forget about today and focus on the next.”

Those lapses made things extra difficult for the parade of Rays relievers that followed an inefficient Corey Kluber, who completed only three innings despite early support from Isaac Paredes’ three-run homer. Matt Wisler struggled for the third straight outing, relief ace J.P. Feyereisen had his franchise-record scoreless appearance streak snapped after 16 games by an unearned run in the seventh, and Ryan Thompson blew his second save in as many tries in place of Andrew Kittredge, who landed on the injured list Sunday after a string of rough outings.

“I’m competing my heart out and giving up key runs that just can’t happen,” Thompson said. “My pitches aren’t good. My locations aren’t good. I flat-out kinda suck right now.”

The result was a rare series loss to the Orioles for a Rays team that is far from full strength. Even if Franco can avoid the IL, Tampa Bay is also weathering injuries to regulars Díaz, Kittredge, red-hot outfielder Manuel Margot and slugger Brandon Lowe, and it is nursing nine pitchers on the 60-day IL. Margot should be back Wednesday, deepening the Rays’ lineup and outfield. But Bruján has made three errors in seven games in Lowe’s place at second base, and the Franco uncertainty restricts how Tampa Bay can deploy the versatile Taylor Walls.

Without Kittredge for at least two weeks, the Rays will need to similarly lean on additional depth while they wait for Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks and JT Chargois to return from injury.

“We just need to play better,” Cash said. “We had multiple opportunities to win that game, to close that game. We didn’t get it done. The Orioles did.”