After going 5-1 on their recent west-coast swing, the Tampa Bay Rays returned home to weather they did not experience during their stops in Seattle and San Diego--rainy, muggy, dreary weather that is typical of the Bay Area in August. Thankfully, Tropicana Field provides protection from the elements, however, it hasn't seemed to provide comfort in the form of a decisive home-field advantage, as they are only two games above .500 at the Trop after a lackluster 2-0 loss to the lowly Detroit Tigers Friday night.
Once again, the offense faltered, failing to get any runner past second base until the ninth inning, that streak lasting 16 innings since Wednesday's first inning in San Diego. And even as they threatened in the ninth, fortune was not on their side as home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman called a questionable third strike on Eric Sogard with runners on the corners.
But the story of the game was not that call, but the inability of the Rays' offense to come through with runners on base.
Beside the ninth, the Rays' best chance was in the second, as Jesus Aguilar led off against Tigers' starter Daniel Norris with a walk, and Matt Duffy followed with a single. Two on, no one out, and the Rays could not even advance the runners, as Mike Brosseau popped out and Kevin Kiermaier and Guillermo Heredia followed with strikeouts.
Charlie Morton had one of his better efforts of the season, pitching seven innings of three-hit ball, striking out 10, and again, walking no one. But he was victimized in the fourth by team defense, and earned his fifth loss, in tough-luck fashion.
With one out, Dawel Lugo reached on an error by Matt Duffy, and advanced to third on a double by Niko Goodrum. On a 1-0 pitch to Brandon Dixon, the ball got by catcher Travis d'Arnaud, allowing Lugo to score. After the game, Morton said the signal between him and d'Arnaud got crossed; Morton threw fastball, d'Arnaud was expecting something else.
The Tigers then got an insurance run in the eighth, as Peter Fairbanks, making his first appearance in a Rays uniform, allowed a leadoff double to Travis Demeritte, then allowed another double to Jordy Mercer with one out, giving the Tigers their final margin of victory.
But even with the threat in the ninth, it wasn't nearly enough for the Rays, and way too late.
*Drew VerHagen picked up the win for the Tigers, pitching five solid innings in relief of Norris, allowing three hits and striking out three.
*Detroit had lost six in a row at Tropicana Field prior to Friday's win.
*The Rays lost a game in the AL East standings to the Yankees, who defeated Cleveland 3-2 Friday night. However, that Yankee win allowed the Rays to keep pace with the Indians in the wild card race. The Rays are still two back of Cleveland and were a game ahead of Oakland for the final wild card spot prior to Oakland's game late Friday night against Houston.
*Saturday's game features Ryan Yarbrough (11-3, 3.56 ERA) against Jordan Zimmerman (1-8, 7.13 ERA). Game time is set for 6:10 p.m.