ST. PETERSBURG -- When you're struggling and you have very little margin for error, you can't help but be frustrated when close calls start to not go your way, too.
That was the case for the Astros on Saturday afternoon at Tropicana Field, where a 2-2, two-out pitch that appeared to catch the inside of the plate thrown by Dallas Keuchel was called a ball, helping Jake Elmore draw a walk and the Rays to score three times and send the Astros to their fifth loss in a row, 3-0.
"Very disappointed," Keuchel said. "Everybody in the ballpark knew that was a strike, 2-2 to Elmore. That's a key pitch, and I've got to have that. I think [plate umpire Greg Gibson] knew he missed it, and he kind of opened it up after that. That was the ballgame right there. I've got to make quality pitches after that, but, man, it would still be 0-0."
Elmore's walk loaded the bases, and Rene Rivera followed with a two-run single, and Brandon Guyer's RBI single made it 3-0. Keuchel (11-4), who should find out soon if he'll start the All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile on Tuesday, was otherwise outstanding, holding the Rays to three hits and one walk in the next five scoreless innings.
"I think it's pretty obvious what we thought of it, and that's a tough pitch," manager A.J. Hinch said of the pitch to Elmore. "I mean, there was a couple pitches after that and we could've got out of the inning. That inning alone was the story of the game, but ground-ball base hit, ground-ball base hit, ground ball, walk, ground-ball base hit, ground-ball double. Dallas did a good job keeping the ball on the ground. Three runs right there felt like five because of the way that things have been going for us."
Frustration surrounding the call wound up leading to the ejection of pitching coach Brent Strom, who let Gibson have an earful when he went to the mound in the seventh inning to talk to Keuchel. It was the first career ejection for Strom and a much appreciated show of support for Keuchel.
"That was nice to see," Keuchel said. "He's got our backs until we're finished. I've got nothing but praise for that guy. He's got our backs, and he wants to see us do well."
Of course, the Astros' struggling offense only magnifies each missed call or missed play. The Astros have scored only four runs during their five-game losing streak, all of which have come via home runs. They're hitting .156 during the streak and are in danger of falling out of first place for the first time in nearly three months.
"It's sort of the way it's going right now," Hinch said. "It's hard to describe, 'cause it's one of the more unexplainable things is when a team gets into a little bit of a team-wide rut like this. … Right now, it feels like we've got to be perfect to scratch across some runs. And that's not a good recipe to try to beat a good pitcher like [Jake] Odorizzi."