Rays 'never out of the fight' in Rangers loss

June 5th, 2021

ARLINGTON – The Rays lost to the Rangers, 5-4, in their return to Globe Life Field on Friday night. They came up short for a handful of frustrating reasons -- a strong start by Texas right-hander Kyle Gibson, a few odd plays in the field and a tough second trip through the lineup for Josh Fleming among them.

But even in a loss, the Rays’ ninth-inning rally -- too little and late as it might have been – was a reminder of one indisputable strength of this team: They are never out of a game.

Held scoreless for seven innings, Brandon Lowe put the Rays on the board by blasting a two-run homer off Josh Sborz in the eighth. Then Tampa Bay loaded the bases in the ninth, and Brett Phillips made what had been a one-sided affair into a one-run game with a two-run single to right field off Ian Kennedy before Lowe went down swinging to end the game.

“That’s what we do,” Fleming said. “We're never out of the fight.”

The Rays’ first trip back to the site of last year’s World Series was only their fourth loss in the last 21 games and just their eighth defeat since May 2. All those wins revealed a lot about the Rays as they vaulted to the top of the American League East standings. Some of their losses have, too.

Consider this: Since April 15, the last time they played the Rangers before Friday night, the Rays have lost exactly two games (of the 47 they’ve played) by more than two runs. One of those was a three-run defeat in Oakland on May 8, the other a seven-run rout by the Astros on April 30. Their other 14 losses over the last seven weeks have all been by one or two runs. Every game is close, and they have reason to believe a comeback is never far out of reach.

“That’s what this team does,” manager Kevin Cash said.

On nights like this, it’s easy to see how. Their pitching doesn’t let games spiral too far out of control. And their lineup battles, which is how a team that had nothing going for seven innings wound up with the tying run on third in the ninth.

“I think we all recognize that we're never out of it, regardless of how big the lead is. Every one of these guys, we come here to compete,” Phillips said. “If given the opportunity, we still have three outs in the ninth, we're going to take advantage of it and do the best that we can.

“And that's what makes this team so special. Especially when we get later in the season, we're going to need guys with that mentality because you're going to go through stretches, and we need guys to continue to compete on a daily basis.”

As comforting as it was in the big picture, it was still a vexing night in some aspects as the first-place Rays lost to the last-place Rangers for the fourth time in five meetings this season.

Fleming breezed through two quick innings before surrendering one run in the third after a pair of odd plays in the infield. With a runner on second and one out, third baseman Joey Wendle fielded Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s grounder then got caught in between tagging runner Willie Calhoun or throwing to first and wound up doing neither. Cash acknowledged that Calhoun’s decision to break for third caught the Rays by surprise, allowing him to slip by the typically sure-handed Wendle.

Then Adolis García hit a grounder to Wendle, but the Rays couldn’t turn the double play in time. Tampa Bay challenged the ruling, arguing that Kiner-Falefa violated the slide rule as his foot hit second baseman Brandon Lowe’s leg, but the call on the field was confirmed.

“I think I've got to go back and check what the ruling is. That's the rule that baseball has implemented, certainly to protect guys,” Cash said. “Didn't look like anything that Kiner-Falefa did anything malicious. Just, he did come off the bag.”

The Rangers pulled ahead by putting the ball in the air in the fourth inning. Joey Gallo, Nick Solak and former Rays first baseman Nate Lowe hit three straight singles to plate one run, then Texas tacked on another on a run-scoring bunt by Charlie Culberson. Calhoun’s RBI single to center made it a three-run inning and left the Rays in a four-run hole, then Gallo smashed a solo shot to center in the fifth. Meanwhile, Gibson held the Rays to only five singles in 5 1/3 innings.

Fleming wound up allowing 10 hits with only two strikeouts in a career-high seven innings. What changed after his first time through the order? Fleming thought Texas made an adjustment to capitalize on the number of strikes he threw (72 out of 100 pitches) with an aggressive approach.

“I just got hit around. That's all it was, just an off night. I'll get better, and next start, maybe switch something up,” Fleming said. “Just got to do a better job at getting my pitches down and locating a little bit better. … Just got to get better at mixing up locations with two strikes.”