This wasn’t how the night was supposed to go.
On the tenth anniversary of the magical Game 162, the stage was set for the Tampa Bay Rays to clinch the best record in the American League for the third time in franchise history. The win would have been the team’s 98th of the season with a nice tie-in to the team being founded in 1998.
The baseball gods don’t care about nice narratives as the Houston Astros defeated the Rays to keep the magic number at one for the No. 1 seed in the AL.
Things started off well and the Rays offense did not waste anytime in trying to secure their postseason standing. Brandon Lowe hit a leadoff single to get the game started. In the next at-bat, Yandy Diaz hit a two-run home run (91.2 EV, 27 LA, 353 ft) just over the wall in left field to give the Rays a 2-0 lead.
Yandy Diaz - Tampa Bay Rays (13) pic.twitter.com/4cO1zXl7wW— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) September 29, 2021
Lowe would follow-up with a double in the second inning following a Kiermaier single and represented the Rays last hit until the ninth inning. Although, given the pitching performance from Michael Wacha it looked like it might be enough to secure a win, until it wasn’t.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Kevin Cash pulls his starter that is absolutely dealing and the reliever gives up a solo home run. Well that happened again tonight with a performance it would have been hard to see coming.
Michael Wacha was absolutely dominant in his five innings of work. He allowed no hits and no runs while only throwing 61 pitches.
Wacha went to work pic.twitter.com/yw8xQ5w0Pp— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) September 29, 2021
In the sixth inning Kevin Cash replaced Wacha with Andrew Kittredge who is fresh of his stint on the 10-day IL. After getting the first two batters he faced out, Kittredge gave up a solo homer to Alex Bregman ( 100.7 EV, 32 LA, 395 ft) to trim the Rays lead to 2-1.
David Roberston replaced Kittredge in the seventh inning and looked pretty solid only allowing a single to Kyle Tucker. He also only gave up one hit in the eighth inning, though, that hit was a solo home run to Jose Altuve (102.7 EV, 23 LA, 401 ft) to tie the game 2-2.
Glimpses of hope remained for the Rays late in the game. Rookie-phenom Wander Franco extended his on-base streak to 42 games with a walk in his last at-bat in the eighth inning. In the top of the ninth, fellow rookie Randy Arozarena launched a solo home run (98.6 EV, 35 LA, 354 ft) to give the Rays a 3-2 lead.
RAKES— Bally Sports Sun: Rays (@BallyRays) September 29, 2021
Then there was the bottom of the ninth where the bottom fell out of the game and the strike zone apparently.
Josh Fleming replaced Robertson and gave up a hit to Yordan Alvarez on an infield single. In the next at-bat, Carlos Correa hit a ground ball that Lowe makes an incredible stop on in the infield but the flip to Franco isn’t executed allowing Alvarez to advance to second but Franco didn’t give up on the play and made an incredible barehand grab of the ball and threw it to Ji-Man Choi at first for what was called an out on the field. The replay looked really close and hard to know how or why but the ruling was overturned and Correa was safe giving the Astros runners at first and second. Fleming’s appearance ended with Kyle Tucker grounding out to first with both runners advancing and an intentional walk to Aldemys Diaz to load the bases.
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, in came JT Chargois with the tall task of getting the final two outs of the game. Chargois’ first two pitches to Chas McCormick were right on the edge of what had been the established strike zone for the game, though, both were called balls in this instance. Eight pitches later, McCormick was walked scoring a run to tie the game.
In the final at-bat Chargois also walked Jason Castro for the walkoff walk, allowing Carlos Correa to score.
There were many chances to win this game and the Rays fell just short of checking off the another goal from their list. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you lose a game that started with a 2-0 lead and five no-hit innings from the starting pitcher. Part of the beauty of baseball is there is no clock to run out when you have a lead and this also leads to comebacks and unfortunate losses like this one.
The Rays will get another chance tomorrow to clinch the top seed in the AL with first pitch at 8:10pm ET and Drew Rasmussen scheduled to get the start opposite Luis Garcia for the Astros.