NEW YORK — Though they had only a train ride from Baltimore to New York and the convenience of not changing hotels as they faced the Yankees and Mets in consecutive series, the Rays still felt the road was long and seemingly without end.
There was considerable conversation before Thursday’s finale about how eager they would be to get home after playing 10 games over 11 days against three teams expected to contend for playoff spots.
“I was saying (Thursday), I forgot we even went to Baltimore,” outfielder Josh Lowe said. “It was a long trip.”
After Thursday’s 3-2 matinee loss to the Mets, Rays manager Kevin Cash summed it up with a different word: “frustrating.”
The Rays went 4-6, losing series to the Orioles and Mets, and splitting four intense games with the Yankees as their majors-best record dropped to 32-13. They let leads get away late several times, most notably Wednesday, when they gave up three multi-run homers from the seventh inning on, and came up short in others when they failed to get a needed hit.
“Two or three games didn’t go our way,” Cash said. “We were close a couple, but close doesn’t necessarily cut it.”
That was the case Thursday, when they got a rough first inning followed by four strong ones from recalled rookie Taj Bradley but not enough offense. When they did have one of their few rallies, a baserunning mistake by Harold Ramirez was costly. Cash had been saying before the game how the Rays had been making better decisions on the bases.
This wasn’t one.
The Rays had just tied the game at 2 with two outs in the sixth when Josh Lowe hit his team co-leading 10th homer. They had a chance for more off Mets starter Tylor Megill as Arozarena walked, Ramirez singled to left-center, and they had recently warming Brandon Lowe at the plate.
But as Lowe swung through a 1-0 pitch, Ramirez wandered off base and Mets catcher Michael Perez, an ex-Ray, fired to first baseman Pete Alonso before Ramirez could get back.
Ramirez didn’t have much of an explanation: “He just got me. … I don’t know, he just surprised me. …. I just tried to take a good lead, because if Randy goes I’ve got to go.”
Cash gave credit to the Mets. “Heads-up play by them, Alonso and Mikey Perez. We know Mikey well; he’s got a cannon for an arm. … Ideally, with Brandon at the plate we want to take our chance right there, but it didn’t happen.”
Worse, the Mets quickly seized the lead off reliever Zack Littell, getting two runners on with one out in the sixth, then scoring on a slow bouncer/roller to third by ex-Ray Tommy Pham.
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“He just kind of hit it where we weren’t,” Cash said. “Well-pitched ball game on both sides;we just came up short in the end.”
The Rays grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first, after Josh Lowe led off with a double, before the Mets tied it in the bottom of the inning. Bradley loaded the bases with one out, then allowed a run on a grounder to first, though he did well to keep it to one.
He settled in after that, retiring eight straight until Alonso, the Tampa product who hit the three-run walkoff blast Wednesday, homered again leading off the fourth. Bradley then retired six of the next seven. “Really impressed with Taj,” Cash said.
Another measure of how long the Rays were gone: Bradley was one of five players on the plane home Thursday who wasn’t with the team when they left Tropicana Field after their May 7 game.
Trevor Kelley was called up, Jake Diekman and Littell were acquired from other teams, and Pete Fairbanks was activated from the injured list. Among the departed was starter Drew Rasmussen, who sustained a forearm injury that will sideline him at least into August.
“It was just long,” Josh Lowe said. “We played three really good teams. All three of these teams are going to finish probably in the postseason, I would imagine. Teams we’re playing right bow are playing good. You kind of just keep moving on.”
Three more good teams await at the Trop, as the Rays face the NL Central-leading Brewers, AL East rival Blue Jays and NL-best Dodgers in their longest homestand. But there is one big difference, Josh Lowe said.
“I know everybody’s excited to get home,” he said, “have 10 days at home and get in our own beds.”
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