ST. PETERSBURG -- Derek Shelton was going to let his voice be heard.
In the top of the fourth on Wednesday, the Pirates manager disagreed with how the pitch timer was being run, and after disagreeing with how the timer was run on Tuesday, the typically mild-mannered Shelton expressed himself once again. He had words for home plate umpire Quinn Wolcott, then third base umpire Adrian Johnson, then first base umpire Manny Gonzalez. At some point during the fracas, Johnson tossed Shelton from the game.
On an evening in which the defense committed two game-altering errors and the offense couldn’t record a hit with runners in scoring position -- a formula that resulted in an 8-1 loss at Tropicana Field -- Shelton’s ejection encapsulated the frustration of the last two nights.
“We just haven’t played well,” Shelton said. “I don’t know if there’s anything specific to it, if it’s the fact that it’s the ball on the turf. There’s a lot of factors to it. We just haven’t played well and they’re really good. If you give them extra outs, they will capitalize on it.”
Shelton’s dispute with the umpiring crew took place during the top of the fourth inning, and by that point, a crucial miscue swung the game in Tampa Bay’s favor.
With runners at the corners -- Yandy Díaz on third, Wander Franco on first -- Harold Ramírez hit a grounder that scooted under Castro’s glove, allowing Díaz to score and tie the game. The Rays capitalized when Brandon Lowe hit an opposite-field two-run double. Instead of exiting the third with a one-run lead, the Pirates found themselves trailing by two runs.
“Sometimes you've got to just make sure you're capitalizing when they give some opportunities,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “They certainly presented today and felt like we did a nice job of coming up with the big hit at any point when those opportunities kind of arose."
The following half-inning, Shelton contested that the pitch timer stopped in a situation where there should have been a 30-second countdown, a disagreement that led to his early exit.
“I thought they’ve done a really good job of it this year,” Shelton said. “It’s been paid attention to. It’s been extremely consistent, and that’s what I told MLB this morning: I thought it was consistent. I did not think it was consistent the last two days.”
Two innings later, the Pirates fell further behind due to another error -- a physical mistake preceded by a phenomenal defensive play.
In the fifth inning, with no outs and Francisco Mejía on second, Ji-Hwan Bae made a run-saving play, diving to stop Díaz’s grounder up the middle and firing to first to record the out. The very next play, Bae helped the Rays plate another run with a poor defensive sequence.
With the infield in, Franco hit a grounder at Bae and Mejía broke for home. Bae fielded the ball at his chest and intended to throw home, but fumbled the exchange. Due to the bobble, Bae decided to throw to first. With his momentum still going towards home, Bae wildly unfurled a throw that shot past first baseman Carlos Santana and into right field, allowing Mejía to score and Franco to advance to third. Franco scored on Ramírez’s subsequent single, pushing the deficit to four runs.
Keller, who noted that tonight was possibly the best he’s felt all year, allowed five runs across five innings, only one of which was earned. The right-hander controlled what he could control, striking out eight and walking one. Despite the damage, Keller’s ERA dropped to 3.32.
Through two games in St. Petersburg, the Pirates have not played the brand of baseball that defined their April. Shelton has often praised this team’s resiliency, and with the possibility of a sweep looming, they’ll have to quickly shake off their third consecutive loss and regroup in order to leave Florida with a win.
“It’s baseball. It’s going to happen,” Keller said. “We’re going to make errors. We’re going to do dumb stuff. It’s just how can we get out of that mindset, flush it and move on.”