ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays couldn’t have played a much more complete series than they did in their opening three-game sweep of the Orioles last weekend. They combined solid starts and sterling bullpen work to allow four runs in three games. They played clean defense. They grinded out at-bats and came through with big hits when they needed them.
Most of that went missing in the Rays’ four-game series defeat against the A’s, which concluded Thursday with a 6-3 loss at Tropicana Field to end their first homestand of the season with a 4-3 record. Tampa Bay escaped with one win against a rebuilding Oakland club that showed all week it won’t be taken lightly this season.
“Sometimes facing a little adversity, [it’s] good to be like, ‘Man, I don’t think any of us expected to lose the series and win one game out of four,’” center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “But at the same time, we’ve just got to tighten up and come ready to play tomorrow and try to put our best foot forward and get some momentum rolling for us.”
Some of the Rays’ issues were impossible to predict or prevent, like the injuries that sapped two-fifths of their Opening Day rotation and stressed the rest of their pitching staff throughout the series. The turnover led to at least one roster move a day, significant turnover that stood in contrast to a transaction-free opening weekend.
But some of the Rays’ issues were self-inflicted. They walked 19 batters in the four games and allowed 31 runs and 35 hits, their most runs allowed in a four-game series since 2018. Their defense wasn’t as clean as they’ve come to expect, as they committed four errors in the series compared to zero in the first three games of the season.
As a result, the Rays lost a four-game series at home for only the third time since the start of the 2019 season and the first time since dropping three of four to the Rangers exactly a year ago.
“I mean, it was sloppy. There’s no doubt about it. It was sloppy,” Kiermaier said. “And sometimes, it’s good to be humbled early. We were feeling really good about ourselves after sweeping the Orioles and weren’t taking these guys for granted. … They’re good. I was very impressed with them. But we definitely didn’t do the little things better than what they did, and it definitely showed.”
A few of those uncharacteristically sloppy plays helped turn the tide of Thursday’s series finale.
In the second inning, A’s center fielder Cristian Pache came to the plate with two runners on and two outs and knocked a ground ball into left-center field. Looking to keep Kevin Smith from going first to third, left fielder Randy Arozarena slid to cut off the ball as center fielder Kevin Kiermaier moved behind him in case it slipped through. Instead, the ball caromed off Arozarena’s foot and skipped behind Kiermaier, allowing both runners to score.
The ball rolled all the way to the warning track, where Kiermaier had trouble picking it up on his first attempt, giving the speedy Pache plenty of time to round the bases for a Little League home run that put the A’s up, 3-0.
“Hit off the shoe, and that’s what happened,” Arozarena said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “It’s definitely just part of the game. There really wasn’t anything we could do after that.”
Other little moments came back to hurt the Rays, too. Leading off the third, Chad Pinder hit a grounder that shortstop Wander Franco fielded in the hole before firing a leaping throw across the infield. The heave was in time to retire Pinder, but Yandy Díaz couldn’t scoop it cleanly at first base. The next batter, Sean Murphy, then crushed a 114 mph RBI double to the base of the wall in center field.
“I don’t think there’s anything else I could have done besides maybe play deeper, if I could have done it over,” Kiermaier said. “But man, I was already kind of deep. [Murphy’s] got stupid power. … I like my chances more times than not, but big ol’ donkeys like him, man, I tip my hat. I wish I had that power.”
One of the Rays’ only rallies of the game was also thwarted by a mistake of their own making. After Arozarena and Brandon Lowe singled to lead off the second, Manuel Margot knocked an RBI single to center. Mike Zunino then flied out to right field, allowing Lowe to advance to third, but Margot was thrown out trying to take second, changing the complexion of the inning. That was the beginning of a streak in which A’s starter Cole Irvin, who worked into the seventh inning on 71 pitches, retired 14 straight batters.
“He threw a lot of strikes. I know we made early outs, but I can’t really fault the guys,” manager Kevin Cash said. “If you’re seeing strikes, we want you to swing at balls in the zone. And it looked from the side that he just had enough on his fastball, enough separation between his offspeed pitches that it kind of kept us off-balance.”