One pitch leaves McClung at a loss
Angels jump on hanging curve, spoiling Baldelli's return
ST. PETERSBURG -- When a pitcher is on his game, little things start to matter a lot more. A game can swing one way or the other based on something as insignificant as one poorly located pitch. On Wednesday, Angels starter Jered Weaver was on, Rays starter Seth McClung hung a curve and Tampa Bay lost its second straight to the Angels, 6-2.
Weaver and McClung were even after three innings and through two outs in the top of the fourth, when McClung allowed two soft singles. He had catcher Mike Napoli down 0-2 when he left a curve up over the plate, and Napoli drove it over the wall in left field.
That one pitch was what McClung said was the minutiae-turned difference-maker in a game in which Weaver held Tampa Bay to four hits in six innings for his third career win in three starts.
"It was a hanging curveball ... I should've bounced it [in the dirt]," McClung said. "That's really what I'm frustrated about the most. It was a good pitch to throw, just not like that."
Aside from that, McClung said, he wouldn't take anything back.
McClung walked Chone Figgins to lead off the fifth and then allowed him to take an additional two bases when his pickoff attempt scooted past first base and into the bullpen in right field. It marked the fourth error by a Rays pitcher in the last 10 games and was yet another minor mishap that added to the unfavorable end result, as Figgins scored on the next play, a sacrifice fly. The Angels got to McClung for a solo shot from Kendry Morales in the sixth to stretch their lead.
The Rays' bats, meanwhile, stayed nearly silent. It was the 11th game this season that Tampa Bay was held to five hits or less, contributing to its American League-worst .229 batting average at home.
"It's the same old song and we've got to get beyond this tune, but we did really not pitch that badly," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "But we have to do more things offensively. We can't rely on our pitchers every night.
"We have faced good pitching, but you have to beat good pitching, too."
Weaver did his part to compound the problem, allowing leadoff home runs to Carl Crawford and Julio Lugo in the fourth and sixth innings, respectively, but was otherwise stingy where the Rays' offense was concerned. Outside of the homers, Jonny Gomes was the only Ray to reach second base, on a double in the sixth.
The much-anticipated return of center fielder Rocco Baldelli sparked the crowd but failed to do the same for the offense, as Baldelli went 0-for-3. Baldelli had missed the last 221 games dating to the end of the 2004 season -- first because of ACL knee surgery, then Tommy John elbow surgery, and most recently a strained left hamstring.
The crowd went wild when the center fielder caught a Dallas McPherson fly for the game's fifth out, and the Tropicana Field organist played a few bars of the "Hallelujah" chorus. He received a standing ovation as he approached the plate in the bottom of the second inning, and the scoreboard flashed "Welcome back, Rocco!" It appeared that everyone, including Baldelli, was enjoying Baldelli on the field after what seemed like an eternity.
"When you play so many games sometimes you don't always get an adrenaline rush, but it's been such a long time for me that I got some blood flowing and actually started sweating, which isn't an everyday thing," said Baldelli, who recorded four putouts. "I've been waiting for [this] almost two years now. It was a good feeling. ... More than anything, it was fun going out there and playing."
Still, Maddon pointed to the game as a sign that things were finally beginning to come together. Baldelli was the last piece missing from a starting lineup that had not played a full game together this season, and with him back, Maddon said, it's only a matter of time for all the Rays' little things to start making a positive turn.
"Every team goes through difficult moments, and that's the time where you don't point fingers but you come together even more tightly," he said. "So that's what we're working on now, and that's the way it is."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.