Cloudy future: Rays lose ground
They fall 2 1/2 back in wild-card race
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Rays are running short on time in the playoff race.
The team’s fourth loss in five games - 5-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays last night - dropped them 2 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the AL wild-card chase, further dampening the team’s hopes of earning a third postseason berth in four years.
“It’s not going to be easy. It hasn’t been easy, and that’s OK,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. “We’re learning a lot of lessons about ourselves right now.’’
Tampa Bay has only five games remaining - two against Toronto and three against the Yankees, who have already clinched the AL East title.
Brandon Morrow pitched seven scoreless innings and Kelly Johnson homered and drove in two runs off David Price (12-13), whose pair of third-inning throwing errors contributed the Rays’ demise.
“You’ve got to throw this in the trash can very fast,’’ Maddon said. “We did not play well. We didn’t hit well, we didn’t do anything well. Trash it, then come back tomorrow and get back on the right track. We’re running out of time, but there is time. We’ve got to come back, play our normal game.’’
A night after pounding out 17 hits in a 15-8 romp at Yankee Stadium, the Rays were limited to Matt Joyce’s second-inning infield single until Casey Kotchman singled with one out in the seventh off Morrow (11-11), who only allowed those two hits while walking four and striking out nine.
Toronto played spoiler for the second straight night. Edwin Encarnacion’s 12th-inning walkoff homer beat Los Angeles, 4-3, Thursday, dropping the Angels three games behind Boston in the wild-card race.
“It’s fun to win, no matter what,’’ Johnson said. “We’re playing against a lot of teams that are desperate to win and we’re doing all right. It’s definitely encouraging.’’
Boston, which has six games left, was rained out at New York. Any combination of Red Sox wins and Rays losses totaling four will eliminate Tampa Bay from wild-card contention.
“I think I know our guys pretty well,’’ Maddon said. “At this point in the season, it’s not going to get into their heads. We’ll come back [today] ready to play.’’
Johnson had an RBI single in the third. He led off the sixth with a home run that drew a smattering of boos from a crowd of just 18,093 at half-filled Tropicana Field.
Joel Carreno and Luis Perez each pitched an inning to finish a combined three-hitter for Toronto. The Rays didn’t get a runner past second base until the ninth, when Johnny Damon walked and wound up scoring from third on Joyce’s two-out single.
“It’s a pretty big blow. We’ve only got five games left, so we’ve got to win,’’ Price said. “We don’t think Boston is going to go and lose six out of six, so we need to put some wins together and step up.’’
Price, 9-2 lifetime against the Blue Jays, allowed five runs - two earned - and five hits in six innings. He walked two and struck out seven.