ST. PETERSBURG -- Asked to take on a heavy workload after a short start by Luis Patiño, the Rays’ bullpen escaped two early jams Sunday afternoon. But the Majors’ most effective relief corps finally faltered late, allowing the tying run in the seventh and the winning run in the ninth inning of the Rays’ 6-5 loss to the Twins at Tropicana Field.
Facing the heart of the Twins’ lineup with a one-run lead in the seventh, Pete Fairbanks allowed a run on a leadoff single, a walk and a two-out single by Nick Gordon. Then Andrew Kittredge, the Rays’ most reliable reliever all season, yielded the tiebreaking run in the ninth on a double by Josh Donaldson, a wild pitch and Gordon’s single.
“It’s kind of a frustrating outing as far as kind of not doing the things that I know help me be successful, which is attacking the hitters, getting ahead and going from there,” said Kittredge, the All-Star reliever who had allowed only two earned runs in his previous 20 appearances. “For a couple of hitters there, a couple of pitches, just kind of lost it a little bit.”
Tampa Bay lost for just the third time in its last 14 games and only the ninth in its last 35. The Rays (86-51) had been 60-7 when leading after six innings entering Sunday’s series finale against the Twins. They did not lose any ground in the American League East standings, however, as the Yankees (78-58) lost 8-7 to the Orioles on Sunday and ensured the Rays’ division lead would remain at 7 1/2 games.
“I think we have high expectations for ourselves. Anytime we let a game like today slip from us, it’s a little frustrating,” Kittredge said. “But at the same time, we’re good for a reason and we have a lot of resiliency. … Could be frustrating, a little bit, but I like our chances going forward.”
The Rays had to come back Sunday after a shaky start by Patiño, who was coming off two of his best outings of the season against the contending White Sox and Red Sox. The right-hander breezed through a 14-pitch first inning but ran into trouble with two outs in what turned into a 31-pitch second inning.
Patiño struggled to put away the lefty-heavy bottom half of the Twins’ lineup, allowing three straight hits to Gordon, Jake Cave and Ben Rortvedt before a walk and a two-run single by leadoff man Luis Arraez.
“He just didn't have it today,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “[Pitching coach Kyle Snyder] and I kept looking at each other as that inning was unfolding, and it felt like he just could never get in a rhythm, get in a groove, and the Twins did a good job of finding holes, getting big hits to kind of open up the game there fairly early.”
Patiño didn’t make it through the third inning, allowing a single to Josh Donaldson, then walking Max Kepler. After striking out Gordon, Patiño surrendered a single to Cave and walked Rortvedt to load the bases. Overall, Patiño -- who admitted he’s “definitely growing against lefties” but getting better in that regard with each start -- allowed five of his six hits with three of his four strikeouts and two of his three walks against Minnesota’s left-handed hitters on Sunday.
“This is definitely a start [where] I struggled a little bit,” Patiño said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “You've got to give credit to some of those guys. Some of the hits they got, I know sometimes you can say they can get lucky, but give credit to them for battling.”
The 21-year-old right-hander has put together some impressive outings, including a six-inning gem against the Yankees on July 29, a six-inning victory over the White Sox on Aug. 21 and a solid 5 2/3-inning outing against the Red Sox his last time out. But he has run into trouble in his last two starts against the Twins, recording only nine outs at Target Field on Aug. 15, then allowing four runs in 2 2/3 innings on Sunday, his shortest outing as a starter since his Rays debut on April 25.
“For me, it was a bad start. I've been having some pretty good starts, but I'm just going to go out there and do the hard work,” Patiño said. “I know it's part of the process, and I know I've got to go in, take those days off from here and go on to the next start.”
In came right-hander J.P. Feyereisen to begin a long day for the Rays’ bullpen, albeit one that began on a high note. Feyereisen induced a grounder from Willians Astudillo to end the inning and keep the Twins’ lead at 4-0.
Brandon Lowe launched a two-run homer to right field in the third inning, his 33rd of the season (tied for seventh most in a single season in Rays history) and his 10th in the last 27 games, to make it a two-run game. Then Feyereisen pulled off his second big escape of the afternoon in the fourth. With runners on second and third and nobody out, Jorge Polanco slapped a low changeup directly to shortstop Wander Franco, and with Arraez breaking for home, Franco turned an easy double play at third base. Feyereisen then retired Donaldson, swinging the momentum in the Rays’ favor.
Lowe singled and scored on a base hit by Nelson Cruz in the fifth, then Austin Meadows slugged a go-ahead two-run homer to right field off reliever Caleb Thielbar -- his 23rd home run of the season but just his second against a left-handed pitcher. The Rays made it interesting in the ninth, putting runners on the corners with two outs for Cruz, but the veteran DH flied out to center to end the game.
“Encouraged that the guys came back,” Cash said, “but frustrating nonetheless.”