Rays bullpen implodes in ninth, 10th

Rays bullpen implodes in ninth, 10th

TORONTO -- You want to say unbelievable, but it's gotten to the point where it's predictable: The Devil Rays found a way to lose on the road ... again.

Friday night, a crowd of 27,606 at Rogers Centre watched as the Blue Jays came from behind twice to take a 5-4 win over the Rays when Aaron Hill hit a two-run homer off Brian Meadows with no outs in the bottom of the 10th.

The percentages say it can't happen, only reality says it can. The Rays are stuck at two road wins in 28 games since July 1, which represents the worst second-half record (percentage-wise at this point) in Major League history dating back to 1900. Right now, the Rays' winning percentage on the road is .074. Ranking a distant second are the 1909 Washington Senators, who finished the second half at 6-38 for a .136 winning percentage. The Rays' road record for the season is 19-54, which is even harder to understand given the fact the team is two games over .500 at Tropicana Field.

In addition, Friday night represented the ninth time this season the Rays have lost on a walk-off hit.

"The only thing I can say is what we just saw tonight is why we've only won two games on the road," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "This is the thing, we get pressured late on the road and we just don't respond as well as we do at home. That's pure and simple what I'm seeing. It's not a lack of effort. Guys aren't really different in the dugout, or the preparation. Everything's the same. It's just on the road we haven't responded as well late in the game when it gets tough. And we have to overcome that, that's going to be a big discussion in Spring Training."

Maddon admits the imbalance is mental.

"It's not physical, it's more of a mindset," Maddon said. "And again, I really believe it's an experience issue. You can talk about youth and then you talk about inexperience, and that's something that's even more glaring than youth when it comes to doing things right when it gets very difficult."

Particularly frustrating was the fact the blown lead squandered a fine pitching performance by Rays starter Jae Seo, who pitched six scoreless innings before the Jays got an unearned run against him in the seventh. And Seo had out dueled Roy Halladay in the process.

Halladay, who was making his first start since getting hit on the elbow by a line drive on Sunday against the Red Sox, showed no ill effects from the injury while pitching nine innings and coming away with a no-decision. But the Rays did score three runs against him and held a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth.

That's when Maddon handed the ball over to closer Seth McClung, who allowed a leadoff double to Hill before walking Russ Adams. After striking out Reed Johnson, a wild pitch moved the tying runs to second and third. Frank Catalanotto brought a run home with a single, and Vernon Wells hit a sacrifice fly. And just like that the Jays had tied the score at 3.

"I felt like any time I could have gotten out of it," McClung said. "They got the hits and the walk kind of hurt me a little bit. The walk was the tough one. But still, we had a two-run lead. I felt like we could get out of it."

McClung felt for Seo, who got a no-decision on a night when he should have gotten a 'W'.

"Seo pitched his butt off," McClung said. "He's been doing that. He just hasn't been catching a break."

In the top of the 10th, Tomas Perez reached base on a passed ball after striking out against B.J. Ryan, then scored the potential winning run on a Ryan wild pitch with one out to put the Rays up, 4-3, heading to the bottom of the 10th when Meadows gave up the walk-off shot to Hill.

"[Bad pitch.] It's just happening a little too often," Meadows said. "Fastball right down the middle."

Meadows had been the closer prior to McClung's recall from Triple-A Durham and appeared to have some rust from not being used as much. But the veteran would not take refuge in any such excuse.

"I'm not going to blame the fact I haven't been out there as much as I would have liked," Meadows said. "It's just something you have to get used to and I understand it. ... September is the time to see some of the young guys and we just take a back seat to that. That's the way it is on every team."

While Meadows has been through many ups and downs in his Major League career, McClung is the guy the Rays are slotting to be the team's closer for the future. Maddon said the next time out will be important for the big right-hander, who blew his first save since his return.

"This is the moment," Maddon said. "It happens to all closers at some point. And it's how you bounce after the fall that matters. ... This is an important moment for him."

And an important moment for the Rays' future.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.