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Rays 2 Mariners 4 : Seattle casts spell on Rays

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Tampa Bay Rays Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Whatever witchcraft has caused the Rays to become helpless in the face of the Seattle Mariners, I hope it disappears before tomorrow.

At the start of today’s game I really thought the fairy dust had lifted.

Luis Patiño needed to work out of a bit of a jam in the first, but then the Rays were all over Seattle lefty Kikuchi. First pitch — Arozarena attacked it for a home run that clocked in at 109.8 mph.

Franco’s single just a few pitches later was merely 100.9. Nelson Cruz hit the ball nearly as hard, but that that turned into a very impressive double play (moral of the story: don’t hit it so hard!) So the Rays had to settle for just the one run in the first, but that didn’t seem like a problem. The Rays were hitting the snot out of the ball. Brian Anderson was explaining the Kikuchi had been struggling of late. Surely this game was going the Rays way.

But because the Rays are playing the Mariners who have somehow cast a spell on them this year, the lead was short lived. Jake Fraley doubled on a ball hit 54 mph (as I said, the moral of the story: don’t hit it so hard), scored on two sacrifices. And Patiño, throwing a lot of two-strike pitches that got fouled off, was at 50 pitches at the end of two, hardly ideal.

Patiño had a better third inning, but meantime whatever Kikuchi had been doing wrong in the first had been corrected, because Rays hitters were getting mowed down with seemingly little effort.

The tie ended in the fourth inning, as Toro hit a very deep homerun off a poorly located breaking ball. I then thought they were showing a replay of that homer, but no, it was a second solo shot by Kelenic to give Seattle a 3-1 lead.

As we all know, Brian Anderson is usually very insightful — indeed prescient — as he dissects games. Today, however, the more he talked about Kikuchi’s struggles in his last few games, the more he mentioned lost velocity and pitches losing precision, the better the pitcher’s results. Strikeout, weak contact.

The Rays did get a run back in the bottom of the fourth. Meadows singled, and Margot doubled. Because Seattle left fielder (and former Rays prospect) Jake Fraley bobbled the ball, Meadows was able to score to get us to 3-2.

And that was it for the Rays, who had opportunities but took advantage of none of them.

Seattle tacked on an unearned run in the sixth. When your bullpen is beset by injuries then the sixth inning of a close game gets you Ryan Sheriff on the mound. I sighed when I saw him — just prefer not to have him be the guy with the game in his hands — but I’d like to apologize.

Yes, he did hang a pitch that allowed the lead off batter to reach on a single, and also threw wildly to allow the runner to advance. But then it was the infield defense that led to Seattle’s fourth run. Wendle fielded a grounder and threw poorly to first base. Diaz failed to scoop the bounced throw and there were runners on the corners with no outs. Sheriff was able to strike out Kelenic, which meant a well placed grounder could end the inning.

And the next batter gave them just that. Franco had to step in to field the ball and throw to Lowe at second. The throw wasn’t great — it required Lowe to reach across his body. But Lowe whiffed, seemingly unsure whether to try to bare-hand it or pivot to get a glove on it. He lost out on getting even one out, let alone two. An unearned run scored, the score was 4-2 and still just one out. Sherriff was, however, able to get out of the inning without further damage, and credit to him for keeping his focus as his infield let him down.

The Rays bullpen was pretty solid thereafter, and no one muffed any more plays. But the Seattle bullpen was also pretty solid, and despite the Hager error that led to the Rays second run, their defenders made a bunch of impressive plays across the game. A defense that prevents runs — I remember what that was like.

Our three stars of the game:

Ryan Sherriff. Because it’s not easy getting five outs in an inning.

Randy Arozarena. Because it’s not easy hitting a ball nearly 110 mph

DJ Johnson. Because he’s the new guy, and pitched one of the only clean innings the Rays managed tonight.