The Tampa Bay Rays lost on the road Sunday, by the final score of 10–5. The loss was Tampa’s third straight, and finished off just the second three-game series sweep suffered by the Rays this season. The first was to the world-beating Yankees, in June, by a combined four runs; this sweep was at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds, who are mega-crud. All Rays fans are reeling.
It all came apart during an absolutely brutal third inning, when starter Shane Baz gave up seven runs on six hits, including three two-run dingers, on 26 pitches. Jonathan India went first, with a shot to left that just cleared the wall and drove in Matt Reynolds. Three batters later, with Tyler Naquin on second following a run-scoring error, Tyler Stephenson smoked a huge dinger to center to make the score 5–0. The next two pitches went for base hits—Donovan Solano singled through the middle, and then Mike Moustakas socked the 200th homer of his career—and brought Baz’s night and the competitive portion of the game to a premature end.
A solid professional baseball team does not lose three straight games to the Cincinnati Reds, in 2022, without some unusual misfortune. Each of the first two games went to extras and were lost by a single run. Friday’s game was blown when Rays reliever Matt Wisler tapped his thigh with his glove in the 10th inning, a move which home-plate umpire Edwin Moscoso interpreted as a flinch and ruled a balk, sending home Mark Kolozsvary from third for the delightfully anticlimactic walk-off run.
This was the first balk-off in Rays franchise history and the first in MLB since 2018, per ESPN Stats & Info. Rays manager Kevin Cash called the situation “bizarre” but after reviewing the play ultimately agreed with Moscoso’s interpretation. Wisler, an eight-year veteran, was admirably even-tempered about this after Friday’s game, explaining that he often uses the glove tap to call for another sign from the catcher, but allowing that from 60 feet away the move could easily look like a flinch. Wisler describes himself as “a big leg-tapper” and was cool enough to demonstrate the move in the post-game locker room:
Probably the Rays would’ve been a lot less chill about this absurd ending had they known at the time that it would be one of three consecutive losses to one of the three or four worst teams in baseball. The Rays, now 45–40 on the season, in third place in their division, and just one game clear of the wild card cut-off, will host the second-place Red Sox for a four-game set this week. Defector dot com, a sports blog, will naturally keep its readers up-to-date on the events of this extremely important July series as it progresses.