Last year's Rays bullpen endured some rough times, which is why the team spent the offseason trying to bolster the supply of arms trying to protect late leads. The reconstruction even saw last year's closer, Al Reyes, moved back to protect the eighth inning.
On paper the idea looks great, using a guy with 26 saves to set up new closer Troy Percival. But Wednesday night the Rays never had the chance to hand it off to Percival because Reyes could not get the job done in the eighth.
"When it got to the eighth I was comfortable with Al in that situation," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I mean Al had 26 saves last year and I felt good about him going for the full eighth inning."
Reyes walked the first batter he faced, Melvin Mora.
"When Al walked Mora, that was not a good sign," Maddon said. "A four-pitch walk, he normally doesn't do that."
One-out later, Kevin Millar added a single. Reyes then ran into a Rays mood killer in Aubrey Huff, who entered the game with a .358 career average against his former team.
When Huff stepped to the plate to face Reyes in the eighth he already had a two-run homer off Rays starter Matt Garza, which cut a Rays lead to 6-5. The home run was Huff's eighth home run in 18 games against the Rays. But that wasn't enough, Huff then added a game-winning two-run double off Reyes to hand the Rays their first loss of the season.
"Fastball down and away, I left it up a little bit and [Huff] made a good swing," Reyes explained.
Maddon conceded that Huff has "totally worn us out."
"I just think he's jacked up about doing it against us more than anything," Maddon said. "I mean he hit a breaking ball [against Garza], he hit a fastball today. From my perspective, obviously you'd like to think you're not making good pitches. But sometimes hitters just get you regardless. And he's getting us right now."
Huff couldn't pinpoint why he's enjoyed such success against his former team.
"It's just one of those things," he said. "It's a coincidence. Hopefully we can transfer that to the rest of the league."
While Reyes carried the loss on his shoulders, the Rays squandered several opportunities throughout the night and could never put away the O's.
Cliff Floyd had a three-run homer and Carlos Pena added a two-run shot to account for five of the Rays' six runs. But the Rays could not push across any runs in the third, despite loading the bases with one out, and they only managed to score one after loading the bases with no outs in the fifth following Pena's home run. The one run they did manage came when Dioner Navarro hit into a double play.
"We had chances to score more runs early and we didn't," Maddon said. "Then we had a nice lead and gave it up. They just kept coming back against Garz and that should be enough runs to win a game. We just have to pitch better to win those kinds of games."
Maddon sounded frustrated about his team's inability to nail down the win. Clearly, he did not like the flavor of the defeat, the likes of which tasted familiar.
"Again, we have to win those games," Maddon said. "There's no question. That is what we have not been able to do the last two years, and we've got to get beyond that and it's just unfortunate it happened tonight."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.