ST. PETERSBURG — Six games to go.
For the Rays, involved in a tight race to the postseason, every one of them has urgency.
Yes, Sunday afternoon’s 7-4 defeat against the Red Sox seemed deflating for the announced crowd of 17,946 at Tropicana Field. But that sensation must fade — quickly. The Rays spring back into action for Monday night’s finale to the four-game series before welcoming the Yankees for the regular season’s final two home games.
“We’re going to lose at some point and it’s disappointing,’’ Rays third baseman Joey Wendle said. “You never want to lose when you’re in a race like this (but) we’re right in the thick of it.’’
The Rays (92-64) woke up Monday tied with the Cleveland Indians for the second American League wild-card spot. The Indians beat the Phillies 10-1 Sunday night to even the race.
After a pair of late-night electrifying walk-off extra-inning victories, the Rays lost Sunday by early walkover after left-hander Ryan Yarbrough was ambushed in a four-run first inning.
“All in all, it was really frustrating,’’ said Yarbrough (11-5), who lost back-to-back decisions for the first time in his career while yielding six runs in his second straight start. “At the time of year, it shouldn’t be happening, especially where we’re at right now in the race.’’
Yarbrough surrendered six hits in the first inning, including a three-run homer by Christian Vazquez, and trailed 4-0.
The Rays tried to make a game of it, chipping away with single runs in each of the first three innings, including a second-inning RBI single by Kevin Kiermaier (ending a career-high 0-for-22 slump) and a third-inning solo homer by Wendle.
But Yarbrough, suddenly within 4-3, still couldn’t hold down the Red Sox. He was lifted in the fourth after allowing a leadoff double to Jackie Bradley Jr. and walking Rafael Devers.
Reliever Andrew Kittredge made things worse by hitting Xander Bogaerts with his first pitch, loading the bases, then walking J.D. Martinez to force in a run. The sloppiness continued when Devers scored on a wild pitch. In the seventh, the Red Sox scored their final run on Wendle’s two-out fielding error.
Overall, the Rays had only four runners in scoring position. They couldn’t do much against Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi (2-0) and five relievers.
There was a magnificent sight to witness in the ninth when two-way player Brendan McKay blasted a 420-foot pinch-hit solo homer off the Trop’s right-field “D’’ ring.
“We know he’s really talented, whether he’s on the mound or in the batter’s box,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He put a charge into one.’’
Mostly, though, there wasn’t much to see.
Especially from Yarbrough, who hasn’t won a decision since Aug. 11.
Once they were 3-8 in extra-inning games. Now the Rays are 7-0. John Romano lends some insight. #RaysUp #RedSox @TBTimes_Rays #WildCard #ALWildCard #RallyTogether #RootedInOakland https://t.co/8DxY6pSeOw— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) September 22, 2019
“It looked like early on he couldn’t execute pitches when he got ahead,’’ Cash said. “He got ahead of guys, but just couldn’t put them away.
“A couple of soft hits in there, but then Vazquez comes up with the big blow to separate the game early on. He was falling behind when he got ahead and didn’t have the finishing pitch. Ideally, that’s not going to set you up for too strong of an outing.’’
Yarbrough is winless (0-2) is his last seven starts (beginning Aug. 17) with a 5.45 ERA over that stretch.
“Just got to put it behind (us) and get back at it,’’ Yarbrough said.
“You move on to the next one,’’ Wendle said.
From momentary deflation back to the customary urgency of a postseason race.
That’s life for the Rays.
Six games to go.