Joe Nathan blew a save in the 11th. The offense faltered yet again with a runner in scoring position in the 12th. Joseph Ortiz, not Neftali Feliz, was the choice out of the bullpen to get the game to the 13th.
But the Texas Rangers never got there.
The magnitude of their latest loss Wednesday night felt like their toughest of the year, considering their perilous position in the postseason hunt and the fact they had been just an out away from a key victory.
Instead, manager Ron Washington had to accept blame for a 4-3 loss in 12 innings to Tampa Bay, which now leads the Rangers by one game in the wild-card standings.
“We just couldn’t shut down the ballgame,” Washington said. “It’s tough. We were right were we wanted to be with the right guy on the mound.”
Desmond Jennings was the hero at Tropicana Field, delivering Sam Fuld with one out in the 12th for the Rays’ 11th walk-off win of the season. The Rangers, despite losing for the eighth time in nine games, maintained a half-game hold on the second wild-card spot as Cleveland lost at Kansas City.
Jose Lobaton started the 12th with a single on an 0-2 pitch from Ortiz, and Fuld went to second on a bunt by Yunel Escobar. Jennings followed with a single to right field, and Fuld scored ahead of the throw from Alex Rios.
Washington said that Ortiz, an unproven rookie, was the choice over Feliz because the coaching staff thought that Ortiz’s changeup was a good pitch against Lobaton and Jennings.
Feliz had warmed in the 10th and stopped, and was warming again in the 12th when he stopped and had to be summoned back to the mound to continue warming. He would have been called upon if Evan Longoria had batted two hitters after Jennings.
“We had Ortiz in there because of his changeup,” Washington said. “I felt Joey’s changeup could get the job done in the situation. It just didn’t happen.”
The Rangers were leading 3-2 in the bottom of the 11th with two outs and the bases empty, but saw Nathan blow his third save of the season. They also had the go-ahead run at third with one out in the 12th, but Leonys Martin and Ian Kinsler couldn’t get the run in.
Jeff Baker started the 12th with a pinch-hit double, and pinch runner Adam Rosales moved to third on a bunt by Jurickson Profar two batters later. Profar took second base as Martin batted, but the center fielder lined softly to shortstop. Kinsler was next, and he struck out on three pitches.
“Once again, we put ourselves in position, but we couldn’t get it done,” Washington said.
Nathan, bidding for his 40th save, quickly retired Evan Longoria and Wil Myers to start the 11th, but walked Matt Joyce on a full count. Freddy Guzman ran for Joyce and stole second. He scored easily as David DeJesus singled up the middle on a 3-2 pitch for a 3-3 tie.
“I didn’t throw a bad pitch,” Nathan said. “Could it have been better? Sure. He didn’t hit it great, but he got enough and put it in the right spot.”
The Rangers had taken the lead in the top of the 11th as Elvis Andrus scored from first base on a two-out bloop single by Adrian Beltre.
Andrus was hit by Roberto Hernandez pitch with one out in the 11th, and Rios followed with a popup to the catcher. Beltre was next, and eventually dropped a blooper on a 3-2 pitch into right-center field with the Rays’ outfield playing deep to prevent a double.
Andrus was running on the play and never stopped as rookie right fielder Myers threw to the cutoff man toward second base instead of throwing into the infield.
A pair of defensive miscues led to the game’s first four runs, two for each club. The Rangers got theirs in the second against Chris Archer after Mitch Moreland collected a one-out double and Profar drew a two-out walk two batters later.
That brought up Martin, who ripped a line drive to center field that Jennings initial came in on before realizing that the ball would carry. But it dawned on him too late, and Moreland and Profar scored as the liner went to the wall for a two-run triple.
The Rangers had only two other hits against Archer and had just seven in the game.
Derek Holland held onto the lead until the sixth, when he allowed a one-out single to Myers and was behind Delmon Young 3-0 in the count. But the slow-footed slugger swung at the next pitch and hit a chopper to Andrus.
He flipped to Profar to get Myers, but his throw to first was wide and Young was safe. Profar covered his head in disbelief, sensing that inning should have ended. Instead, Sean Rodriguez connected for a two-run homer two pitches later for forge a 2-2 tie.
“Even thought we made the [bad throw], they doesn’t mean you can give up the bomb,” Washington said. “Not turning that double play changed the outcome of that whole game, really.”
That wasn’t the only play or decision that cost the Rangers, who continue to cling to a spot in the postseason.