ST. PETERSBURG — They say when it rains, it pours. And it seems as if the Mariners brought plenty of rain for the Rays and their recent success from Seattle to Tropicana Field.
The Mariners picked up right where they left off last year in competition against Tampa Bay, claiming an 8-4 win in the first of a three-game series Tuesday night. Last season, the Rays went a lowly 1-6 vs. the AL West squad, including a four-game sweep.
A scoreless game played into the top half of the fourth until a pair of costly defensive mistakes opened the floodgates, and in poured seven unearned Mariners runs.
It started to drizzle when Wander Franco was unable to get everything behind the beginnings of a double play that would have ended the inning. The star shortstop’s flip to second baseman Brandon Lowe didn’t quite have enough mustard, and Lowe scrambled to grab the ball with his bare hand while keeping his foot on the bag. Lowe was indeed able to grab the ball momentarily with his foot on the base, but the umpires, even after manager Kevin Cash called for a challenge, ruled the runner at second safe.
“I thought so,” Lowe said when asked if he thought he held the ball for a long enough time to record an out. “I talked with [umpire] Shane [Livensparger] afterwards to get everything cleared up and kind of told him my thought process. I went to football. The ground can’t cause a fumble. I had it, and it hit the ground and came out. It obviously didn’t go the way we wanted it to. Now I know going forward if I’m ever put in that situation again, I know exactly what constitutes a catch.”
“The ball just kind of came up on [me], stuck on [my] hand, and [I] just kind of threw it, and it got away from me,” said Franco of the play through assistant hitting coach Brady North. “Things happen. I thought [Lowe] had the ball, but it’s kind of hard to see that fast.”
Instead of the side being retired, the Mariners had the bases loaded with one out. That’s when the second and most costly error resulted in a downpour of Seattle runs.
Mariners catcher Tom Murphy tapped a check-swing dribbler to charging first baseman Ji-man Choi, who had one play: to home. Choi’s throw from halfway down the line bounced in front of catcher Mike Zunino and went over his shoulder to the backstop, scoring Jesse Winker from third and Eugenio Suárez from second.
Seattle’s Julio Rodríguez provided an RBI knock with a double, and following a hit batsman to load the bases, Adam Frazier slashed a bases-clearing double to right, just over Choi at first base. Ty France capped the inning with an RBI single to bring the total to seven.
“Just a rough inning for all of us,” said Rays skipper Kevin Cash. “[Pitcher Josh Fleming] did some good things getting the ball on the ground. We didn’t help him defensively like we normally do. It snowballed from there. They found holes. Everything that could go their way went their way.”
The Mariners tacked on another via a France sacrifice fly in the sixth, while the Rays got four back in the seventh thanks to a Franco two-run homer along with a two-run shot from catcher René Pinto in his Major League debut.
Prior to Tuesday’s tilt, the Rays were 4-2 in their past six and just took two of three from Boston. Cash said he’s not sure exactly what it is about facing the current AL West division leader that seems to bring his club misfortune.
“I wish I knew,” Cash said. “They’ve played us tough. We’ve got to avoid big innings like what we just had in the fourth. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we’ve got to try and avoid that. They’re a good club. They’re playing well and they’re playing with a lot of energy.”