TAMPA–For eight innings in Monday night’s game against Houston, things were going as they have been for Tampa.
That is, to say, rather swimmingly.
Tyson Oswalt pitched seven brilliant innings, silencing Astro bats to the tune of four hits over seven innings. Tristan Beck, who seems to have finally found his footing in Tampa, pitched a clean inning. Heading into the ninth, the Rays led 3-0.
The one true thing missing out of Tampa’s pitching staff this year has been a set closer. Carlos Meza started the year in the role, but moved to the rotation. Kevin Clancy then moved to the role. Then he, too, moved to the rotation.
That brought about Jon Roberts, who has been pretty solid in the role this year. On the season, teams are hitting .189/.297/.368 in high leverage spots against Roberts.
However, there is one major issue with Roberts: His control. He walks 4.6 hitters every nine innings. It’s the biggest reason why he had five blown saves heading into last night.
Last night, he picked up his sixth.
He began the inning by walking Richard Fowler on four pitches. After striking out Edgardo Arrendondo, he walked Aaron White on four pitches. George Cuyco followed that by lining a single just beyond the reach of 1B Nick Pratto.
His safety, gained on a 1-2 count, loaded the bases.
Ron Winterhalder singled to right, scoring Fowler. Justin Ellis followed that with a game-tying double. Fernando Tatis then singled, scoring Winterhalder and Ellis, making it 5-3 Houston.
In a span of six pitches, Houston scored five runs.
Gerald Goodwin replaced Roberts, getting Alex Bregman and Jose Gonzalez out to end the inning. But the damage was done.
So were the Rays, who lost another game they probably should have won.
The pitching staff has been what has pushed this team to where it is as things sit today, tied with Toronto for the final wild card spot, with Detroit a half-game back, and Boston four behind. The team has given up the fewest runs in the American League, and the only one who has yet to give up 600 on the year (they sit at 598). The starters have the best ERA in the AL. They are backed by the best defense in the AL, and perhaps all of baseball.
This is a team built for close games. Yet, they are 24-26 in one-run games. And while their 18 blown saves is nowhere near the league leaders (that being Milwaukee, with 32), there are several that are absolutely painful. That includes a 7-6 loss in Detroit on August 7, where the Tigers scored four in the bottom of the ninth to steal the win, as well as back-to-back 3-2 losses to the Yankees on the 16th and 17th, and a 1-0 loss to Miami on the 30th.
At least all of those games were on the road. This was a three-run lead at home. One can argue that it’s the Astros, a premiere team in the AL. Okay. One can argue that Houston has more experience than Tampa. That is absolutely true, and served the Astros well in this one.
It does not take away the notion that every loss at this stage is magnified…the self-inflicted kind doubly so. The Rays gave that one away last night. They could have gained some cushion in the standings.
Instead, for the team that wasn’t expected to be here, last night could very well be the game which ultimately leads to them seeing themselves out.