ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays woke up Tuesday morning with a chance to punch their ticket to the postseason, but they needed a lot of things to break their way. The Yankees or Red Sox had to lose early, then the A’s had to lose late. But first and foremost, they had to beat the Blue Jays.
The Yankees and Red Sox didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, with New York beating the Rangers and Boston taking down the Mets. And the Rays didn’t either, as they lost, 4-2, to the Blue Jays on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.
After a frustrating night marked by missed opportunities at the plate, Tampa Bay will have to wait at least one more day to clinch its third straight trip to the postseason. After the A’s lost to the Mariners on Tuesday night, the Rays can secure a postseason berth simply by beating the Blue Jays on Wednesday.
Everything was setting up for the Rays to shave their postseason-clinching magic number down to one Tuesday night. They had Toronto starter Alek Manoah on the ropes early on. They drew 11 walks, tying a club record for a nine-inning game. They loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth, but came up empty. They were one hit short at every turn, finishing the night 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and 12 men left on base.
“It just felt like [when] we had opportunities, that we just weren't able to get that big hit or multiple hits,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “But if we're getting those guys on base, I'll bet over time our offense will find ways to get them in.”
It just didn’t happen this time. The night began in promising fashion, with Brandon Lowe reaching on a single and Ji-Man Choi walking to put two runners on with nobody out. But Manoah retired three straight hitters to strand both runners.
The Rays had three walks and two hits in a 31-pitch second inning for Manoah, but they managed to score only one run on a single by Lowe. A Kevin Kiermaier double-play grounder erased Manuel Margot’s leadoff walk, and Yandy Díaz struck out with the bases loaded to end the threat. After that Manoah settled in to pitch six innings, allowing only two runs despite his six walks and five hits allowed.
“He hit a rhythm, and we didn't capitalize. It's one of those things where he's been throwing the ball extremely well all year,” said catcher Mike Zunino, who went 2-for-4 with a double, Tampa Bay’s only extra-base hit. “With a tough lineup, it makes it a battle when we can't score given some free passes like we had.”
Indeed, the few mistakes the Rays made on the mound came back to hurt them.
Right-hander Drew Rasmussen put together another solid start, continuing his strong run since joining the rotation on Aug. 12. A week after shutting out the Blue Jays over five innings, Rasmussen held the Majors’ hottest lineup to two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out three in another five-inning outing.
“Another really good outing,” Cash said. “We're going to take that. His pitch efficiency again was really good, and he gave us every opportunity to stay right in the ballgame. We just came up short offensively.”
Rasmussen was more critical of his own performance, lamenting the 2-1, inside fastball that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit out to left-center field for a solo homer in the fifth. But Rasmussen has recorded a 1.69 ERA with 21 strikeouts and six walks over 32 innings in his last seven starts, and Tuesday was just the second time the Rays have lost one of his outings since he became a member of the rotation.
“It wasn't good enough, unfortunately. I think the offense has a little bit less stress and they don't have to try and do so many things if I make one more quality pitch there to the Gurriel at-bat in the fifth, and then they don't have to worry about trying to scratch and claw for another one,” Rasmussen said. “When I come out of the game, my goal is for us to have the opportunity to win. And when I came out, we were losing. Luckily, the offense was able to scratch another. But it sucks not feeling like I did my job properly.”
Joey Wendle’s RBI single tied it at 2 in the fifth inning, but Nick Anderson gave up the tie-breaking run in the sixth inning on a walk, single and sacrifice fly. The Rays then made a surprising call to the bullpen for Michael Wacha. The right-hander was expected to start Wednesday’s series finale, but instead delivered a solid relief appearance. Wacha struck out four over three innings and allowed only one run on a trio of eighth-inning singles.
The Rays will instead send right-hander Luis Patiño to the mound for Wednesday’s series finale, beginning a day that they hope ends with them back in the postseason.
“I think we positioned ourselves in a good spot, and it's baseball. I would rather hit some adversity now than in another week,” Zunino said. “We've got time to try to right the ship, continue to grind down and continue to work like guys are, and hopefully the tides will turn.”