Rays' mistakes cost against A's
Lefty Kazmir pitches well, but two-run homer does him in
OAKLAND -- Calm reigned inside the Rays' clubhouse prior to Tuesday night's contest against the A's. Yes, they were embarking on a period of games without the likes of Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, but they felt up for the task.
However, at least one player noted that in order to absorb the loss of two impact players, the mistakes had to be nipped in the bud since there wasn't as much wiggle room without the pair. So what did the Rays do? They littered McAfee Coliseum with miscues in a 2-1 loss to the A's with a crowd of 14,284 watching.
"Yeah, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
In defeat, the Rays fell to 71-47 on the season and saw their lead in the American League East reduced to three games, as the second-place Red Sox defeated the Rangers, 19-17, in a wild one at Fenway Park. The Rays are now 3-2 on the current 10-game, three-stop road trip, and they are now four games under .500 on the road.
A's starter Gio Gonzalez seemed to be wilting in the fourth when he issued consecutive walks to Rocco Baldelli and Willy Aybar with one out. But Gonzalez recovered to strike out Justin Ruggiano and Dioner Navarro when all the Rays needed was to put the ball in play to perhaps open the floodgates.
"We had some opportunities, and we just didn't take advantage of them," Maddon said.
If the fourth wasn't bad enough, the fifth had to be the most frustrating inning for Maddon to watch, as a golden opportunity went by the wayside because of some lapses on the base paths.
With runners on first and third, the Rays attempted a safety squeeze. Akinori Iwamura got the bunt down, but Gonzalez pounced from the mound to field the ball and ran down Ben Zobrist between third and home for the first out.
The bunt "was in the wrong spot and it was a misread at third," Maddon said. "We messed that up."
Zobrist waited to see the ball down on the bunt before digging for home.
The bunt "just happened to be right at [Gonzalez]," Zobrist said. "It's a tough play; it's a tough bunt. Especially lefty on lefty, I'm sure. And from there, my job is to try and get into a rundown, but I wasn't able to do that so [Jason] Bartlett could get over to third."
On a safety squeeze, the ideal placement of the bunt is toward first. Iwamura's bunt went back to the pitcher.
"I was trying to bunt down first base, but I was not skilled enough to bunt down first base. I will work on it," Iwamura said through an interpreter.
Bartlett moved to second base on the botched bunt play, then was picked off by Gonzalez for the second out.
"They made a good play by picking J.B. off," Maddon said.
B.J. Upton followed with a single, but rather than being an RBI single, all the hit could do was advance Iwamura to third base. Carlos Pena then flied out to end the threat.
Aybar put the exclamation point on the evening when he took off with his head down on Eric Hinske's flyout to left -- with one out. Aybar had almost reached third base when he realized his mistake, sheepishly heading back in the direction of first base, where he was tagged out along the way for the third out.
"And I always talk about what a baseball player [Aybar] is, and he just messed up," Maddon said. "And he'll tell you that straight up."
Scott Kazmir took his sixth loss of the season even though he allowed just two runs on two hits in his five-inning stint -- including a two-run homer by Bobby Crosby. Kazmir has struggled with his mechanics lately, but the 24-year-old left-hander left Tuesday night's start feeling as though he was making progress.
"Last three innings felt really good; I was going downhill and the ball felt like it was coming out pretty good," said Kazmir, who still managed to reach 97 pitches in five frames. "I just have to go deeper into the game. That's the bottom line. But I think there's a lot to be taken from this start, especially the last three innings."
After Kazmir left the game, J.P. Howell pitched two scoreless innings and Grant Balfour finished with a scoreless eighth.
Maddon's final word on Tuesday night's loss addressed his team's effort, which he did not criticize despite the mistakes.
"I just want us to play like we've been talking about all along, just play it hard," Maddon said. "Continuous effort is what I'm looking for. I'm sure everyone feels like it's their responsibility to pick things up. I just want us to continue playing the same game that we've been playing to this point."
Iwamura added that in a "losing game a lot of mistakes stand out."
"This game is over now, so we have a new game coming tomorrow, so stay focused on tomorrow's game," Iwamura said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.