ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rangers were unable to find the two-out magic conjured in Friday’s win, falling 5-1 at Tropicana Field in Game 2 of the series on Saturday night.
Texas had chances in the third and fifth innings to plate runners in scoring position but were unable to convert in a game scarce of chances. The most promising opportunity came in the fifth with the bases loaded and Jonah Heim at the dish.
Heim, who was responsible for the Rangers’ lone run via a solo shot in the fourth, lifted a 98 mph sinker to the right-field warning track and into Manuel Margot’s glove to end the threat.
“The pitch just got in on him just enough that he missed it, but that was the only real situation we had to get a big hit and break the game open,” interim manager Tony Beasley said. “It’s just one of those nights where we had to scratch and claw to try to get something, and we just came up short.”
The Rangers went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and were held to six hits by a Tampa Bay staff that used six pitchers and allowed one hit after the fifth inning.
“They threw some good arms at us tonight,” Beasley said. “It was kind of a bullpen day for them, and they threw different looks at us all night -- different guys with different kinds of movement and different arm slots.”
Right-hander Jon Gray made his second start since coming off of the IL with an oblique strain and pitched well enough to give his team a chance to win. The 30-year-old tossed 4 1/3 innings of two-hit ball, allowing two earned runs, walking one and striking out four on 67 pitches. He also hit the first batter he saw, Jonathan Aranda, who came around later via a David Peralta sac fly.
Gray said he felt a bit off on the hill, but it had nothing to do with his prior injury.
“I was just a little off mechanically -- kind of throwing out of a different slot almost,” Gray said. “For how weird things felt today, I felt that we really limited damage today and were able to cruise and keep the game close.”
Gray could have up to three more starts before the year is done and hopes to continue to build his strength down the home stretch. Despite only making 21 starts thus far, he boasts a 10.1 K/9, a single-season career high and the second-highest season rate among Texas starters with at least 100 innings since 2017.
“Hopefully by the last game, it will be like a normal one,” Gray said. ”I don’t know how much of a jump we’re going to make [next start].”
Said Beasley: “I liked Jon tonight. I thought he threw the ball well. He was pounding the zone with his fastball and had his breaking ball working well. We got him … close to the 70-pitch mark, which is what we wanted to get done with him tonight. From that standpoint, it was a good night.”
Both of Tampa Bay’s runs off Gray came via a sac fly. In the fifth, reliever Taylor Hearn surrendered a solo homer to Taylor Walls on the first pitch. Dennis Santana allowed the final two runs on a two-run double by Isaac Paredes in the seventh (though Hearn was charged with one of the two runs).
The Rangers will look to win their first series since Aug. 22 vs. Minnesota Sunday afternoon; Beasley said every game matters, regardless of the standings.
“We have the opportunity to play spoiler coming down the stretch,” Beasley said. “We play quite a few teams that are in the playoffs or fighting to get in the playoffs. The games are meaningful to us as well. It means something to us to win [those] series.”
Those teams vying for a playoff spot are the Rays (tied for the second Wild Card), Mariners (tied with the Rays) and Guardians (four-game division lead).
Marcus Semien, who went 2-for-4 with a double, shared similar sentiments with his manager.
“Everybody in here is playing for something at all times,” Semien said. “We’re a young group, and everybody wants to show what they can do going into next year. Of course we’re trying to win every game -- there’s never any other attitude. But there’s some things we know we need to get better at, and this is the time to do it.”