As Tampa Bay gets set to face the Kansas City Royals in a four-game series that opens Thursday night in St. Petersburg, Fla., the Rays must recover quickly from one of the season’s most painful defeats.
The Rays, tied for second in the American League East with the Toronto Blue Jays, were in prime position Wednesday night to win their fifth straight game and cut their deficit behind the division-leading New York Yankees to eight games.
Instead, Tampa Bay’s fate shifted during a wild game at New York.
The Rays squandered a 4-0 lead against the Yankees and headed to extra innings at 4-4.
Francisco Mejia provided bases-loaded heroics with two outs in the top of the 10th, hitting an 0-2 pitch from Aroldis Chapman for a three-run double that put Tampa Bay on the verge of a three-game sweep of the Yankees.
However, with the runner on second to start the bottom of the 10th, reliever Jalen Beeks gave up a hit and a walk to load the bases. Josh Donaldson then hit an opposite-field grand slam to right field, giving New York a stunning 8-7 win.
“(Beeks) just fell behind good hitters,” said Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, whose club will open an eight-game homestand on Thursday. “That (10th) inning was reflective of what had taken place the last three or four innings prior. … When we needed to execute a pitch, we just weren’t able to do it tonight.”
The Rays, who are six games into a run of 17 games in 17 days, will call up right-hander Luis Patino from Triple-A Durham to make the start on Thursday. The 22-year-old was demoted to the minors late last month after going 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in three starts over two stints with Tampa Bay this year.
Patino is 2-1 with a 3.70 ERA in seven starts for Durham. He pitched five shutout innings in his latest outing, Friday against Jacksonville.
Tampa Bay will hope to bounce back against the struggling Royals.
Kansas City is mired in a three-game losing streak after being blanked by the host Minnesota Twins on Tuesday and Wednesday, 9-0 and 4-0, respectively. The Royals scored just two runs while getting swept in the three-game series. They have lost five of their past six and have been shut out five times since the All-Star break.
The Royals announced this week that right-hander Brad Keller — originally scheduled to start on Thursday — is moving to the bullpen for the remainder of 2022.
Keller (6-13, 4.93 ERA) was the Opening Day starter last season, but across 22 starts this year, he leads AL pitchers in losses.
“Brad was completely professional about it,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said of the move. “As most starters, they want to start, so we get it. His first response is, ‘Tell me whatever I need to do for the team.’ That’s exactly what you hope to hear.”
The club said it would have to make a move to replace Keller in the rotation but did not immediately announce a starter for the Thursday opener.
–Field Level Media