Bullpen blows late lead in finale

Bullpen blows late lead in finale

ST. LOUIS -- Another afternoon of odd numbers brought the same result to the Rays on Sunday afternoon.

A day after losing to the Cardinals despite totaling a season-high 18 hits, Rays hitters had seven doubles Sunday. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay pitchers walked a season-high 10 batters Sunday -- all after the fourth inning, while St. Louis' pitchers did not issue a single walk.

When added up, the equation equaled a 5-4 loss to the Cardinals in front of a crowd of 46,392 at Busch Stadium to close Tampa Bay's first weekend of Interleague Play. The loss, combined with the Red Sox's 11-7 win over the Brewers, dropped the Rays out of a tie for first place in the American League East, one game behind Boston, with a record of 25-19.

Of the 10 walks issued on Sunday, the one Gary Glover issued to Jason LaRue hurt the most. LaRue entered the game hitting .114, but he managed to work Glover for a free pass to open the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at 4.

One out later, Cesar Izturis' infield single moved LaRue into scoring position for Skip Schumaker, who hit Glover's first pitch over left-fielder Carl Crawford's head for a game-winning walk-off double.

"We came in a little bit, we wanted to make him hit it over my head -- and he did," said Crawford of the Rays' positioning strategy. "I asked [center fielder] B.J. [Upton] how much I missed it, and he said I missed it by inches. I started to dive for it, but I thought I could catch it on the run, try to stretch out. [I] probably could have with one more step, but I didn't know how much room I had. I gave it my best shot, I just came up a little short."

Clearly, Sunday's loss fell squarely on the shoulders of a bullpen that has been one of the Rays' strengths this season.

"As a bullpen guy, you've got to come in and throw strikes," Glover said. "I know I didn't do my part, and it cost us the ballgame."

Edwin Jackson started for the Rays, and he gave them another solid performance, despite pitching in and out of trouble throughout his 5 1/3-inning stint. The Cardinals had baserunners in every inning Jackson threw, but he did not allow any runs through five innings, largely due to his effective use of the strikeout.

Much of Jackson's troubles came via four walks, which he balanced nicely with seven strikeouts, perhaps best exemplified in the fifth inning, when the Cardinals loaded the bases with two outs before Jackson struck out Troy Glaus to end the threat and extend his scoreless innings streak to 20 innings.

The Rays' right-hander finally reached the end of his rope in the sixth, when he walked the first two batters he faced before retiring pinch-hitter Brian Barton on a flyout. Jackson was then lifted in favor of J.P. Howell, who walked Izturis and gave up an RBI single to Schumaker before striking out Aaron Miles and retiring Albert Pujols on a fielder's choice to end the inning. Jackson remained the pitcher of record at this point, as the Rays led, 3-1, but would again not get a decision. Jackson has not received a decision in his previous three outings, despite giving up just one run.

Dan Wheeler entered the game in the seventh to face Ryan Ludwick, who hit a walk-off homer on Wheeler's first pitch in the Cardinals' 9-8 win on Saturday. Sadly for Wheeler, he threw his second pitch of the weekend to Ludwick also, and got the same result, as Ludwick connected for his 11th home run of the season to cut the lead to 3-2.

Wheeler would not mind if he never saw Ludwick again.

"That's safe to say," Wheeler said. "He's seen two pitches, and he's hit two home runs."

Wheeler retired the next three hitters he faced, and Crawford answered in the top of the eighth with a 405-foot homer off Mike Parisi, to push the Rays' lead back to two runs, at 4-2, but once again, the bullpen could not get the job done.

Wheeler walked pinch-hitter Brendan Ryan to start the eighth. Trever Miller then entered the game and walked Izturis, before Schumaker put down a sacrifice bunt to put the runners in scoring position for Miles, who responded with a two-run single, tying the score at 4.

"We let that one get away from us," said Miller of Sunday's bullpen effort. "The only guy I got ahead of got the biggest hit of the game. Way too many leadoff walks. Four out of five of us came in and walked the first guy. When you do that as a bullpen, you're going to lose the ballgame."

Miller could not come up with a reason for the bullpen's collective collapse Sunday.

"Maybe the moon is in alignment with Uranus or Saturn or something," Miller hypothesized. "[It was] just one of those days, you know? And you can't do much about it. We're not trying to throw balls. We're obviously trying to get ahead and get guys out."

How the Rays deal with the devastating losses to St. Louis on Saturday and Sunday could be the decide whether the team is a contender or a pretender for the remainder of the season.

"We're confident we can come back and win some more games," Crawford said. "[The Cardinals] play just like us. They're scrappy; they come down to that last inning, like we do when we're at home. They play just like us. We knew it was going to be tough. We've just got to forget about it and go to the next series; try to start up another winning streak."

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