Zobrist, Longoria troubles highlight another scoreless day for Rays
JUN 18, 2014 7:18p ET
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Ben Zobrist was standing near his locker deep in Tropicana Field, trying to explain a strange fielding blunder that shows how much his team has lost its balance.
These are strange days within the Tampa Bay Rays, a period that has become a lesson in how losing can be as baffling as it is frustrating. Some days, their pitching excels only to see their bats go silent. Other days, their bats light up the scoreboard only to see their pitching surrender more.
Wednesday, in a 2-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, two of the Rays' largest stars let them down in the latest example that everything about this limp since late May has felt off-kilter. Zobrist flat-out dropped a routine ground ball from Nick Markakis near second base with two outs and no on in the top of the fifth inning. One batter later, Steve Pearce ripped an RBI double off right-hander Alex Cobb on a 0-2 count.
"It just slipped out of my glove," Zobrist said of the Markakis grounder. "Not really much else I can say."
Oh, there was more.
In the bottom of the sixth, Evan Longoria led off with a double to left field off right-hander Kevin Gausman. James Loney followed with a strikeout. Then Zobrist flied out to Pearce in left field, and Longoria was doubled up at second base because he flat-out forgot there was just one out. He broke for home plate like there were two.
A pair of bizarre sequences from two of the Rays' most trusted. A pair of bizarre sequences that fit snug within this strange season all around.
"Just a mental mistake," Longoria said, taking a deep breath. "It's something that can't happen."
The Rays' short-lived momentum after winning four of five games from June 11-16 seems far in the rear-view mirror following Wednesday's result. Baltimore has become an enigma for Tampa Bay, and the Orioles' latest victory was their seventh in eight tries this season over a floundering American League East rival.
But this was a winnable game for the Rays, plain and simple, with Cobb on the mound and a chance to claim their second consecutive series victory before them.
Longoria said as much late Wednesday afternoon in a quiet and empty clubhouse. He was harsh in his assessment that "we didn't deserve to win," but he was realistic in his observation that "the only guy, really, that deserved to win was Cobb." Cobb finished with a strong line: one run allowed (unearned), four hits, four walks and six strikeouts in seven innings.
Still, the blunders by Zobrist and Longoria overshadowed their starter's effort. It's the way Tampa Bay's season has gone: Assumptions, in this case it was thought the Rays would own one of the majors' best infields, have been flipped upside down and dropped in the free fall.
What's the cause? It's difficult to say, though it will be curious to watch how much longer the Rays stay motivated. At 17 games below .500, there will be little more than pride to play for soon if they continue their current arc.
It's fair to assume that missteps like Longoria's and Zobrist's -- he has six errors this year after five total in 2013 -- likely would never happen if they were fighting the Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees for the AL East's top spot. These are the dog days of a down summer here, one that brings back memories of Devil Rays despair. These are days the Rays never thought they would live when they broke spring camp in Port Charlotte in late March.
Even two of their best, with five All-Star Game appearances between them, aren't immune to the pain.
"It just happens," Zobrist said. "Sometimes that happens. Sometimes, you make an error, and you get the next guy out and nobody says anything about it. Sometimes, it costs us. It just seems like this year it has just been costing us a little more."
"I told (Rays manager Joe Maddon), 'It looks great if it bloops in accidentally and we ended up scoring a run there,'" Longoria said. "But it looks terrible when you run into the third out."
Baseball is such a team game that it's rare two men can be blamed for a loss. That's not the case here. Zobrist and Longoria alone didn't cause the Rays to fall again, but it's noticeable when two of Tampa Bay's most consistent lose their focus.
That's the way these recent months have gone: What were expected to be reliable locks have wavered. No one is safe.
The Rays were off-balance again, and no correction appears to be arriving soon.