April 4, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon (70) comes out to argue the call with the umpire after third baseman Evan Longoria (not pictured) was out after he singled during the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. Baltimore Orioles defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Game 3: Chris Davis, Bullpen Struggles, and Controversial Call Down Rays vs. Orioles

Evan Longoria summed it up best: “without Davis, we’re 3-0.” The Orioles’ Chris Davis delivered a series for the ages for Baltimore the last three games, going a ridiculous 7 for 11 (.636) with 3 home runs, 3 doubles, and 11 RBI, becoming the first player in MLB history with 3 or more RBI in each of his team’s first three games. The Rays simply could not get Davis out and paid the price as the Orioles came away with two out of three from the Rays at Tropicana Field and left the Rays wondering what hit them. However, the Rays have much more to blame than simply Davis for their series loss, and even as Davis starred, that quickly became clear as Thursday’s game went on.

Roberto Hernandez took the ball for the Rays and became Davis’ latest victim in the second inning as he drilled a 2-run home run. RBI singles by James Loney and Jose Molina tied the game for the Rays against Miguel Gonzalez in the 5th, but then Davis went back to work against Hernandez, lacing a 2-run double. Other than Davis, though, Hernandez actually pitched extremely well. He went 6.2 innings allowing those 4 runs on 7 hits, striking out 7 while walking 2. He didn’t get quite as many groundballs as usual, managing just an 8-4 groundout to flyout ratio, but he rode the changeup that caught attention in spring training to 7 strikeouts as he looked about as overpowering as ever. Hernandez will have to do a better job keeping the ball down to be successful moving forward, but increased strikeouts will be a huge asset to him and could make him into every bit the pitcher the Rays hope he can be and maybe even more.

Hernandez pitched well, but unfortunately the Rays’ bullpen continued to flounder to put this game out of hand. Cesar Ramos had 2 outs and nobody on in the 8th when he allowed a single and a 2-run homer to J.J. Hardy to give Baltimore a 6-2 lead. Jamey Wright managed to pitch a shutout 9th, but it took a Houdini act for him to work out of a second-and-third, no out jam, and if Wright plays with fire like that too often, he’ll be in serious trouble.

The nail in the coffin for the Rays in this one that made everything even more frustrating came in the 9th inning, which began with the Rays down 6-2. Sean Rodriguez got hit by a pitch and Ben Zobrist singled to begin the inning versus Brian Matusz, prompting Orioles manager Buck Showalter to bring in closer Jim Johnson for a save situation. Evan Longoria was the first batter Johnson faced, and what transpired was chaos. Longoria hit a long flyball to left-center that both Davis in left field and Adam Jones in center pursued, but neither could get the ball as it bounced off the wall. But thinking the ball was going to be caught, Zobrist began retreating back towards first base as Longoria rounded the bag to head towards second base, and Longoria was called out for passing Zobrist on the basepaths. It came awfully close, but replays showed that Longoria never did pass Zobrist and that the umpire who made the call did not have a good look at the play, inciting a long discussion between Joe Maddon and the umpires. But at the end of it all, instead of 2nd and 3rd and nobody out with the tying run coming to the plate (Rodriguez scored on Longoria’s hit), there was a runner on 3rd with 1 out and the Rays’ momentum was gone. Shelley Duncan popped out, and after Yunel Escobar walked, James Loney also popped out to end the game as the Rays lost 6-3.

The entire series the Rays were able to come up with some late-inning magic to make the games exciting at the end, most notably their big comeback to win the second game. However, living by the edge like that is a recipe for disaster for the Rays because not only can it all quickly fall apart like it did on Thursday night but also even the most valiant comebacks can’t negate mediocre and sometimes downright bad pitching along with non-existent offense for most of the game. If things had broken differently, maybe the Rays could have won this series versus the Orioles. But no matter how much they want to place the blame on bad luck (Davis being red-hot) and bad calls, the Rays’ series loss was entirely their own fault and it’s entirely on their shoulders to fix this. The season is just beginning- but the Rays know as much as anyone just how much every game counts and it’s time for the Rays to turn this around. The Rays begin a 4-game series with the Cleveland Indians on Friday night at the Trop, with Matt Moore taking on Zach McAllister in the 7:10 PM opener.

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Tags: Chris Davis Evan Longoria Roberto Hernandez Tampa Bay Rays

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