ST. PETERSBURG -- A ninth-inning baserunning gaffe killed any chance of a Rays comeback Thursday afternoon in a 6-3 loss at Tropicana Field.
A day after the Rays claimed a walk-off win against the Orioles, they entered the ninth inning trailing, 6-2. That's when they began to look like they might be able to create the magic again.
Brian Matusz hit Sean Rodriguez to start the inning, and Ben Zobrist laced a single to right field, prompting Orioles manager Buck Showalter to bring in right-hander Jim Johnson to pitch to Evan Longoria with two on and no outs.
The Rays slugger swung at the first pitch and drove a ball to the wall, prompting both runners to momentarily freeze to see if it would be caught. By the time the ball hit the ground, Longoria was rounding first base and appeared close to running past Zobrist. Rodriguez scored, Zobrist raced to third and Longoria trotted into second with what appeared to be an RBI double.
First-base umpire James Hoye ruled that Longoria had indeed passed Zobrist, making Longoria out according to Rule 7.08(h), which states that any runner is out when he "passes a preceding runner before such runner is out." Zobrist remained on third.
Rodriguez's run stood, and Longoria was credited with a single and an RBI -- but he was ruled out instead of remaining at second base. Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was awarded a putout on the play.
Rays manager Joe Maddon argued the call.
"From my angle, I thought it did not happen that way," Maddon said. "All I was wanting the umpires to do was to ask the home-plate umpire, who I thought had the best angle on the whole thing, because the first-base umpire was kind of moving toward first base. I happened to be seeing this from my vantage point. I didn't have as good of an angle as [home-plate umpire] Jim Reynolds did, who also had a better angle, I think, than James Hoye did.
"All I was trying to do was have them get together and at least just ask, then I would've been fine with the whole thing. It wasn't a heated discussion or a heated argument. I'm just looking for the attempt to get the call right. He was adamant that he got it proper, so at that point, there was no reason from their perspective to convene, so I can't argue beyond that."
According to crew chief John Hirschbeck, they were sure of the call and saw no reason to discuss the matter further.
"It's a judgment, but like I told Joe, that's like a missed base," Hirschbeck said. "That's not something that an umpire just comes up with. That's the kind of thing that you either see or you don't."
Longoria disagreed with the call.
"I don't really think I could have passed him," Longoria said. "From my perspective, I was watching the ball the whole time. And I wasn't really running hard. I knew there were runners in front of me. I didn't know where Zo was, but as soon as I saw the ball hit the ground, I took one hard step. And it seemed when I took that one hard step, I saw Zo to my left.
"So I figured I couldn't have passed him, because I hadn't even started to run hard yet. When the ball landed, I figured this could be a triple because the ball kicked away from the outfielders. And then I backed it off because I saw Zo. The replay, it doesn't look like I passed him. I don't know, it's just a bad break I guess."
Zobrist took the blame for the play.
"I was going back to the bag to tag if they caught the ball," Zobrist said. "If I go back, I would have rather gone right at second base and waited to see what happened. I thought it was a baserunning mistake on my part. I did not see him at all. I was really surprised that they called him out. I had no idea why. I certainly didn't see him in my peripheral."
Shelley Duncan popped out for the inning's second out. Yunel Escobar then walked to bring the potential tying run to the plate in the form of James Loney, but the rally ended when Loney popped out to third to end the game.
"I thought [the play] was a big turning point," Longoria said. "We go from having second and third with nobody out in a 6-3 ballgame, to having a runner on third and one out."
It was not the first time that Longoria has passed Zobrist on the bases. Longoria rounded second base thinking that Matt Joyce's fly would drop in and passed Zobrist, who was going back to second base to tag up, in the sixth inning of a June 27, 2011, game against the Reds. Umpire Angel Hernandez immediately called Longoria out for passing Zobrist.