ST. PETERSBURG – Where to start?
With the bases-loaded walk in the 11th inning that forced in what proved to be the winning run? Or the single played into a triple by the rookie right fielder who started the inning?
With the four-run lead after two innings against the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner that disappeared in the sixth inning?
The 10 walks issued by Rays pitchers?
“We had that game.” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We should have won that game.”
But they didn’t.
Instead, the Rays lost 8-6 in 11 innings Tuesday to the visiting Tigers in front of a pro-Detroit crowd of 14,331 at Tropicana Field.
It was the third straight loss for the Rays and dropped them seven games out of the second wild-card spot.
Another frustrating loss in a largely frustrating year.
“A long and illustrious line, absolutely,” Maddon said.
Grant Balfour, who entered in the 11th inning, had a disaster of an inning. It started when Ian Kinsler drove a sinking line drive to right-center field. Kevin Kiermaier tried to make a diving catch but didn’t, and the ball rolled behind him as Kinsler raced all the way to third base.
“I missed it somehow,” Kiermaier said. “Very frustrating, because once a runner is on third it’s really hard to pitch because the odds are in their favor. It’s just tough. I put that loss on my shoulder. These are games we need to win, and for me to not come up with that ball right there is really tough. I still don’t know how I missed it.”
Said Maddon, “That’s a play he makes. He can make that play probably nine out of 10 times or 9.5 out of 10 times. It just didn’t happen tonight.”
Said Balfour, “Definitely aggressive and made a great dive at it. Obviously comes up (with it), I’m sitting there one out, no one on. Or if you stay back on it, that’s a runner on first. In that situation, I was frustrated, I guess, because I feel like it’s a tight ballgame and the ball gets past you, it’s really tough. Now you’re pitching around guys. Whatever the fans think, and booing and all this stuff and getting on me, that’s fine. But the idea was I was trying not to give up that run when it’s a leadoff triple, which I feel was a leadoff single. I can pitch a little more when I’ve got a runner on first and none out as opposed to a runner on third.”
With the go-ahead run on third base, Balfour walked Torii Hunter on four pitches.
“That’s not a triple. That’s a base hit. Just a lot of frustration tonight, and not wanting to give up the run, I probably should have … I was pitching him in, figured he’d try to turn on something, get a ground ball to third. He just didn’t swing at anything that was in,” Balfour said. “I probably should have been more aggressive. Even if they got the run, they get the run and I keep it to one run. You intentionally walk a guy and you’re pitching around guys because you don’t want to give up that one run, it ends up being a big inning. Probably the wrong approach after that play, but you know, like I said, you feel like you give up a base hit, next thing you know, the guy’s on third, when does it end this season? Tough luck.”
Maddon visited the mound after the walk to Hunter and decided it was best to walk Miguel Cabrera as well, even though that would force Balfour, who’s had command issues this season, to pitch with the bases-loaded.
Maddon said he thought Balfour could get Victor Martinez to bounce into a double play.
“It’s a horrible moment to be in,” Maddon said. “It’s only right if it works.”
It didn’t. Balfour walked Martinez to force home Kinsler.
“I’ll just take the full blame and suck it up,” Balfour said.
Balfour was finished. Of his 14 pitches, 12 were balls. He leads all major leaguers with a career-high 38 walks in 47 2/3 innings.
“The walk to Hunter really hurt,” Maddon said. “That really put us behind the 8-ball there in terms of different strategy.”
The Tigers added two more runs on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly. The Rays got a run back in the bottom of the 11th on a two-out single by Longoria.
You can blame the 11th-inning decisions – Kiermaier’s decision to dive, Balfour’s decision to pitch inside to Hunter, Maddon’s decision to walk Cabrera – but the Rays led 4-0 in the second inning against Max Scherzer.
The Rays took a quick lead in the first inning on James Loney’s three-run homer and added another run in the second when Ben Zobrist singled home Vince Belnome with two outs. Belnome opened the inning with a double that bounced over the wall in center field for his first big-league hit.
The rookie almost had his first big-league home run in the fourth inning when he yanked a line drive down the right-field line. Belnome circled the bases and was in the dugout when the replay review showed the ball actually hooked foul.
Meanwhile Rays starter Chris Archer didn’t allow his first hit until the fourth inning.
Nick Castellanos singled to start the fifth inning. A walk to Andrew Romine followed, and the Tigers loaded the bases when Loney decided to try for the out at second on a grounder by Rajai Davis. Loney’s throw was wide, and Archer was in trouble.
Archer walked Kinsler to score in the Tigers’ first run. Hunter drove in another run when he bounced into a fielder’s choice.
The Rays thought they were out of the inning when Desmond Jennings made a diving catch on a sinking line drive by Cabrera, but replays showed he didn’t. Cabrera was awarded an RBI single, and the Rays lead was down to 4-3.
The Tigers tied it in the sixth inning in on an RBI single by Davis after Archer walked two batters with two outs.
The Tigers went ahead in the eighth inning when J.D. Martinez homered off of Joel Peralta. It was the ninth homer allowed this season by Peralta and the second in as many days.
The Rays tied the score 5-5 in the bottom of the inning when Belnome drove home Longoria with a sacrifice fly – his first career RBI.
It stayed that way until the 11th inning, until Kiermaier tried to make the diving catch on Kinsler and Balfour couldn’t find the strike zone.
Said Kiermaier, “I wouldn’t have dove if I wasn’t 100 percent sure I could catch that. I’m still trying to figure out how I missed it. I had no idea. That was a ball I had a good read on. I dove in. I thought for sure that I had it.”
Said Balfour, “That’s the story of my season, I feel like.”