ST. PETERSBURG -- Down two runs in the first, fifth and 10th innings, the Rays somehow found a way to come back each time. Down two again in the 11th, they finally ran out of magic.
High-leverage reliever Diego Castillo gave up a leadoff double to Starlin Castro and a sacrifice fly to Josh Harrison in the top of the 11th, then the Rays stranded a pair of runners in scoring position against right-hander Tanner Rainey in the bottom of the inning as they lost to the Nationals, 9-7, on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay fell to 3-5 in extra-inning games this season, although this was only the club’s fifth loss in the last 25 games overall. And the Rays did not go down easily, overcoming three two-run deficits over four hours and 19 minutes of play.
“Very encouraged with the way the guys continued to come back, come back, come back,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We just came up a little short there at the end.”
The game had the look of a long back-and-forth affair from the very beginning. Rookie left-hander Shane McClanahan gave up two runs in a 29-pitch first inning, issuing a leadoff walk to Trea Turner followed by a one-out blast from Juan Soto. McClanahan fell behind all but one of the six hitters he faced in the first inning.
“I think [what I'm] learning from tonight is the importance of the first-pitch strikes and how a first-pitch strike sets the tone,” McClanahan said. “I didn't do a good job of that tonight, and those are good hitters and they capitalized on the mistakes I made from having come into the zone when I was down.”
The Nationals would erase that advantage in the third, when Ryan Zimmerman hit a game-tying homer on an up-and-away fastball from McClanahan.
After working only 3 1/3 innings in New York a week ago, the rookie lefty threw 77 pitches in a career-low three innings. His short start made for a long night for Tampa Bay’s bullpen.
“I felt really good out there, just didn't make good pitches tonight,” McClanahan said. “It's one of those learning experiences. You put your work in and move on from it.”
The Rays’ relievers mostly held their own until the extra innings, though, giving up only two runs -- on Zimmerman’s homer off lefty Jeffrey Springs in the fifth -- while striking out 11 from the fourth through the ninth. Right-hander Collin McHugh did the heavy lifting, striking out three over three scoreless innings.
The Nationals scored a pair of runs off Andrew Kittredge in the 10th --- which began with an intentional walk to Soto -- on a single by Yan Gomes and Kyle Schwarber’s sacrifice fly. With automatic runner Austin Meadows on second base, Arozarena launched a leadoff triple off the center-field wall against lefty Brad Hand. Then Wendle tied the game again with an RBI single to right.
“It’s encouraging to see us score runs like that and kind of battle back a couple times there,” Wendle said. “I don't think there's anything we look back at that game with huge regret. I think we got beat.”
Washington pulled back ahead, however, as Castro ripped a double to left in the 11th. Then Victor Robles dropped a bunt single that pushed Castro to third. Castillo fielded the ball, even though Wendle had the better play -- the infielder acknowledged it afterward: “I have to be a little more authoritative there in calling him off. That one’s on me.” With one out, Castillo left a two-strike slider up in the zone and Harrison lifted it to left for a sac fly.
“His strike-throwing was really good,” Cash said. “They did piece together some big knocks and big opportunities where they just kind of moved the baseball.”
The Rays had used nearly everyone on their roster at that point, with Pete Fairbanks prepared to enter the game if it went 12 innings and left-hander Josh Fleming lacing up his spikes in case they needed a pitcher to play the field. Kevin Kiermaier walked to begin the 11th, and Yandy Díaz advanced the tying run to second base on a groundout, but Rainey struck out Meadows to quell the Rays’ final comeback attempt.
“I'm not frustrated. We shouldn't be frustrated. We did everything within our power to win the ballgame,” Cash said. “We had the right guys at the plate at the right time. Big hits from Randy, from Joey twice. So, very pleased with the way we went at it. We just fell short.”