Not for lack of effort, Rays let series slip
Walk-off slam in Toronto quashes rallies in ninth, 13th innings
TORONTO -- In many ways, it would be easy to consider Saturday afternoon's 7-4 loss in extra innings to the Blue Jays as a crushing defeat for the Rays.
Tampa Bay battled back from a three-run deficit in the ninth-inning to tie the game. Then, the Rays eventually gained the lead in the 13th inning, only to watch their closer, Troy Percival, surrender the lead by allowing a walk-off grand slam to Greg Zaun at Rogers Centre.
Making matters worse was the fact that Tampa Bay (85-55) has now dropped four of its last five games. The club's lead in the American League East remained at 2 1/2 games, with the second-place Red Sox falling to the Rangers in their Saturday night affair.
All of these factors could have spelled a lingering Saturday defeat for the Rays. But the club has different thoughts.
"It's not a crushing loss," said Percival. "It's a loss. We've played  games and we're in first place. There is no crushing loss. You play a 162-game schedule, and it's who comes out at the top in the end."
In the top of the 13th inning, the Rays had managed to squeeze out a 4-3 lead when Dioner Navarro's single to right field cashed in speedy outfielder Fernando Perez.
Percival then entered the game in the bottom half of the frame looking for the save. That did not happen, as he allowed back-to-back singles, followed by a critical, two-out walk to Scott Rolen to load the bases.
"I was going after him the whole time," Percival said. "I know Rolen is a professional hitter, I played with him [in St. Louis] and I know what he can do. I was going to make him beat me, and I just couldn't get the ball over the plate."
It didn't get any easier for Percival. Zaun stepped to the plate and promptly launched the first pitch he saw over the right-field wall for a walk-off grand glam that dealt the Rays their second straight series loss.
In the thick of a pennant race, the Rays were looking very good heading into September. They were coming off an August where they went 21-7 -- their best month in franchise history. This September though, they have started just 1-4.
Even so, the Rays are not lacking for confidence.
"It's such a small sample size, the last four or five games," said outfielder Rocco Baldelli. "You can't let five games kind of symbolize the way the season is going. We feel like we're going to go in tomorrow and win. I think everybody in here feels the same way. I think everyone is pretty confident, still.
"We are playing well. We're not going out there and getting outplayed by the other team."
Baldelli's point is correct in that Saturday's loss was not for a lack of effort at all.
Trailing, 3-0, entering the ninth inning, the Rays were able to stage a comeback off of Toronto closer B.J. Ryan. Baldelli got the rally started when he launched a two-run home run into the second deck in left field to bring the Rays to within one run.
The next batter, Willy Aybar, drew a walk and was replaced by Perez, who subsequently stole second base. The speedy Perez then managed to score the tying run on a fielding error by Toronto second baseman Joe Inglett.
"Everybody stayed in the game all the way," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "[The Jays] just got one hit in the end and they won the game. That's what it comes down to. We fought back."
When the Rays rallied in the ninth, they were able to get starter, James Shields, off the hook for the loss. The right-hander pitched well on Saturday, allowing three runs -- two coming off solo home runs to Lyle Overbay -- on six hits over eight innings. He walked two and struck out three.
There was also great defense on display Saturday. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett made a diving stab on a ball that prevented Scott Rolen from scoring the winning run for the Jays. Bartlett then threw the ball to third to catch Rolen off guard and send the game to extra innings.
"I thought, 'That's a base hit, he's going to score easy,'" said Zaun. "Then, Bartlett came out of nowhere... he made a great play to save the game. Had things not worked out the way they did, they would've been talking about that play instead of my home run."
Maddon didn't take the loss as anything out of the ordinary.
"You're going to lose games like this when you get into the playoffs," said the manager. "You're going to lose some tough games. You have got to come back tomorrow. And that's why it's 162 [games] and that's why they call it a grind.
"Sometimes you get your heart broken for about 30 minutes but you have got to put it back together and come back tomorrow and play another game and that's what we'll do."
David Singh is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.