Rays let a ball drop, and then another game, vs. Cubs

CHICAGO — The Rays didn’t have any answers again for the Cubs pitching for a second straight game, nor any explanations for the misplay on a seemingly routine fly ball that led to the decisive run in a 2-1 loss.

With ace Shane McClanahan giving up a homer on his first pitch and nothing else in another strong start, and Randy Arozarena’s RBI-single in the fifth ending the Rays’ scoreless streak in Chicago after 13 innings, the score was 1-1 in the sixth.

And then, after an odd play, it wasn’t.

Ian Happ led off by popping a ball up to shallow right field. Second baseman Brandon Lowe went back, right fielder Josh Lowe came in, and the ball dropped untouched between them. Making it hurt more, Mike Tauchman slapped a two-out single to score Happ with what turned out to be the winning run.

Both Rays fielders said it was a play that needed to be made, offering no excuses for the uncharacteristic mistake.

“Should have been caught. It wasn’t. No excuse for anything. Got to be better next time,” Brandon Lowe said. “It’s a bad play. It can’t happen.”

Josh Lowe said as the outfielder coming in, he should have taken charge.

“The ball goes up in the air, I’m taught to go and get it. That’s kind of how it is,” he said. “There’s no reason that ball should drop there. It hurts to see that happen for Shane, for the team. I know that’s a direct correlation to that play. I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to go after it and get the ball. And we should still be playing the game right now.”

Instead, the Rays’ majors-leading record dropped to 39-18 as they lost two straight for just the fifth time this season. They need a win in Wednesday’s series matinee to avoid their first three-game losing streak — and series sweep — of the season. The Cubs, who started the series with the worst record in the National League, improved to 24-30.

Manager Kevin Cash said he figured both fielders would say they could have made the play. “Sometimes those tweener balls are tough,” he said. “It happens. It just stinks for Mac; he’s putting together just another tremendous start. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

The confusion seemed to stem from neither player calling the ball, with neither the lights nor crowd noise a factor. Josh Lowe said he thought Brandon Lowe “was under it” but he still should have been more proactive. “I’ve got to go and take charge here and catch that ball 10 out of 10 times.” he said.

Both said they felt bad for McClanahan, who was pinned with his first loss of the season — missing a chance to be the first in Rays history to start a season 9-0 — despite a typically strong outing, working 5⅔ innings, allowing two runs, six hits and two walks while striking out seven over 98 pitches.

“He deserved to still be undefeated,” Brandon Lowe said. “He pitched his ass off.”

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McClanahan wasn’t assigning any blame.

“It’s baseball, things are going to happen,” he said. “Those guys go out there every single day and they bust their asses for us. One play shouldn’t be the narrative of this game. There’s nine guys out there and everyone who came in the game, played their hearts out. It is what it is.”

As usual, McClanahan, who holds himself to a high standard, said there were a few pitches he could have made better. As for the homer by Nico Hoerner to start the game for the Cubs? “Obviously the first pitch of the game, ambush, not much I can do there,” he said.

Especially when (per mlb.com data) the 367-foot fly ball to left-centerfield was a homer only at Wrigley Field, and would not have gone out at any of the other 29 big-league stadiums. “Well,” Cash said, “I wish we were playing at the Trop then.”

Cubs leadoff batter Nico Hoerner (2) celebrates with teammate Dansby Swanson (7) after hitting a solo home run on the game's first pitch Tuesday night against the Rays. The Cubs prevailed, 2-1.
Cubs leadoff batter Nico Hoerner (2) celebrates with teammate Dansby Swanson (7) after hitting a solo home run on the game’s first pitch Tuesday night against the Rays. The Cubs prevailed, 2-1. [ PAUL BEATY | AP ]

Though the missed play was the bulk of the story, the ongoing lack of production from the majors’ top offense was a key part of the outcome. After being shut out on one hit Monday by Marcus Stroman, the Rays managed seven against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks and three relievers, but only the one run, primarily because they were 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

“Pretty quiet night offensively,” Cash said. “That’s kind of back-to-back days. Their guys have done a good job of making pitches. Felt like we were mindful of Stroman’s sinker, pretty mindful of Hendricks’ changeup. But not too much that we could do with them either day.’’

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2023-05-31 15:40:41