TORONTO - It was one game, a bad one at that.
A season-high three errors, another big inning allowed by Jeremy Hellickson, not much going on with the bats.
“We didn’t play well,” Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said after a 6-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. “We got beat.”
And it came at a bad time, too.
The Rays entered the season-ending three-game series Friday needing two wins to clinch a playoff berth and home field in Wednesday’s wild-card game.
That remains a possibility, which was the only good news to come the Rays’ way Friday night.
The Cleveland Indians rolled over the Minnesota Twins to move into a tie with the Rays for the wild-card lead. The Texas Rangers held off the Los Angeles Angels and moved to within a game of the Rays and Indians.
Team Bounce Back could use a good bounce this afternoon during Game 161 of the 162-game season.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t come back (today) and get a good win,” Ben Zobrist said. “So we’re looking forward to that.”
The Rays had won seven straight after sweeping the Baltimore Orioles in four games at Tropicana Field and taking all three games earlier this week against the Yankees in New York. The pitching was sharp, the offense clicked and the defense was its usual self.
“When you’re playing well for so many games there’s going to be a time when you don’t play as well,” Zobrist said. “It’s tough to face R.A. Dickey, it’s tough to score runs. We gave up a couple. You just can’t do that and we couldn’t pull it out.”
Maddon loaded up the lineup with left-handed hitters against Dickey and his knuckleball. That’s why Wil Myers didn’t start.
“I thought it was a good day to not expose Wil to that particular pitch,” Maddon said before the game.
Yunel Escobar was not in the starting lineup for the third straight game, Maddon taking advantage of Dickey to give Escobar’s sore left ankle additional rest.
It was a beautiful night in Toronto, though those inside the Rogers Centre were treated to a closed roof. Toronto manager John Gibbons told reporters before the game he had no control over the state of the roof.
“I totally believe what Gibby said is true,” Maddon said, “but I also know that he has it closed for a reason.”
That would be Dickey’s ERA with the roof closed, which is 3.76. It’s 5.73 with it open.
Maddon said he wasn’t surprised the roof was closed.
“Not at all,” he said. “It’s really a high probable day for rain or sleet or snow out there. The fact that the people here love to exist in the outdoors whenever possible, it’s kind of unusual that you close the roof on such a brilliant evening here in Toronto, so there has to be an outlying reason to cause this.”
Rood closed. Roof opened. How much did it really matter?
The Rays built a 2-0 lead against Dickey when Zobrist homered in the first inning and Delmon Young homered in the third inning.
Jeremy Hellickson retired the first nine batters he faced, and the Rays appeared rolling. To heck with what was going on with the Indians and the Rangers.
Then Jose Reyes singled to start the fourth inning and Evan Longoria committed the first of his two errors, and the Jays rushed past the Rays with a four-run inning.
The big blow was a single to center field by Ryan Goins that got under the glove of center fielder Sam Fuld and scored a pair of runs.
“I charged it hard trying to be aggressive and was looking to throw the guy out and, I don’t know, I think I just took my eye off it a second too early,” Fuld said.
He stood helplessly as right fielder Matt Joyce ran down the ball.
“You can’t really imagine a worse scenario as an outfielder,” Fuld said.
But Joyce’s hustle saved a run. He got the ball to Zobrist, who turned and fired to home plate, where Jose Lobaton put the tag on Goins for the final out of the inning.
Hellickson appeared to right himself when he retired the first two batters he faced in the fifth inning. But a pair of walks led to a pair of runs. Throw in Longoria’s second error of the night and it became a sloppy loss.
“They happen and regardless of the time of the year, we have to find a way to bounce back,” Longoria said.
Hellickson allowed six runs (three earned) in 4 2/3 innings. It was the sixth straight start in which Hellickson failed to go at least six innings. It was also his seventh loss in his last eight decisions as a starter.
“I felt really good again,” Hellickson said. “It was tough just to locate and throw the ball where I wanted for three innings and have it fall apart an inning later.”
Maddon came to the defense of Hellickson, who most likely made his last start of the year for the Rays.
“Don’t anybody get on Hellickson,” Maddon said. “He pitched well.”
Maddon said Hellickson was a victim of circumstances - bad defense and another solid outing against the Rays by Dickey.
“That’s one of those games,” Maddon said. “We’ve been on a pretty good run. Go get a good night’s sleep and come back (today).”
The Rays margin for error was razor-thin going into this final weekend of the season. It became even thinner with Friday’s loss.
“Although there’s only two games left we still have a chance,” Longoria said. “I guess we really still are in the driver’s seat. We got out and win (today) and see where we’re at. It’s not like we’re playing catch-up at this point.”