ST. PETERSBURG — The bottom of the order did its job in the bottom of the ninth inning. Single by Cole Figueroa. Walk by pinch-hitter Brandon Guyer. Infield hit by Kevin Kiermaier. Bases loaded. No outs.
But the top of the order fell flat. Strikeout. Strikeout. Pop-up.
And that’s how the first game of the post David Price Era ended, with the Rays leaving the bases loaded in a 5-3 loss Friday night to the Angels in front of 20,969 fans at Tropicana Field.
“There was a time when you were very patient with all that,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said of the fight showed in the final inning. “We just have to be better in that moment. Punch-out, punch-out and then pop-up. You got three of your best hitters up there. The bottom of the order loads it up. We got to figure it out somehow. There’s no more mulligans. The winnable games, we got to do something, somehow, to win those games.”
It was only the Rays’ third loss in their past 14 games and the first time they lost back-to-back games since July 9 and 11.
The Rays loaded the bases against Angels closer Huston Street, who is 29-for-30 this season in save opportunities, but couldn’t deliver the key hit.
But, if the Rays are going to pull off the impossible and grab a postseason berth after being 18 games under .500 at one point this season, if they’re going to continue this climb up the standings without Price, who was dealt Thursday to the Tigers, they have to be able to knock out a pitcher like Street when they have him on the ropes.
The final three batters were Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce.
“It was a winnable game,” Maddon said.
There were few reminders of Price at the Trop. None in the clubhouse, where his locker sat empty. A number of replica Price jerseys were spotted in the crowd, and the image of him throwing the final pitch of the 2008 AL championship series remained in the highlights played on the video screen before the lineup was announced.
“Seems like our guys are doing pretty good,” Maddon said before the game. “I’m really pleased with the way they handled this moment. Now just go play. Don’t change anything. Nothing needs to change. We’re going to miss David, no doubt, everything about him, but we have to keep playing, and I think we can.”
Jeremy Hellickson, making his third start this season, allowed four runs in 42⁄3 innings. He has yet to finish five innings this season.
Maddon said that has to change.
“We’re playing this kind of baseball right now that can’t be tolerant of those moments,” Maddon said. “We’re trying to win every game, every night.”
When asked what is holding Hellickson back, Maddon said, “Probably me.”
Hellickson walked leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun to start the game, then allowed a two-run homer by Mike Trout on his eighth pitch of the night.
The Angels added a third run that inning and enjoyed a comfortable night until Street struggled in the bottom of the ninth with the bottom of the order.
“I just got to be better in the first inning,” Hellickson said.
The Rays scored twice in the fifth to cut the Angels’ lead to 4-3 when Evan Longoria, batting with Zobrist and Joyce aboard, hit a ground ball to third baseman David Freese. He couldn’t field the ball cleanly, and his throw was wide of first.
Both runners scored, and Longoria was on his way to second base when he tripped over the leg of first base umpire Larry Vanover. Longoria continued to second but was thrown out.
“(The game) could have turned out differently with (James) Loney coming up to hit right there. I don’t know that,” Maddon said. “But I do know we had a solid chance to win it in the ninth.”