"A frustrating loss," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "I don't know if there's been one more frustrating this year."
The Tigers' became the second team this season to erase a deficit of five or more runs to win in the ninth inning. The Royals did it to the White Sox on May 28 in Kansas City, scoring seven runs in the ninth to win 8-7.
The last time the Rays wasted a lead of five or more runs in the ninth inning was May 25, 2009, against the Indians. They started the game up 10-0 and still led by six entering the ninth. The Indians scored seven runs to win.
The Rays had finally seemed to turn the corner after losing 11 straight games. They won two of three earlier this week against Boston. They pieced together a 14-inning scoreless streak. They started to hit and drive in runs with two outs. But a combination of Ryan Garton and Erasmo Ramirez each allowing four runs undid it all.
It was the biggest blown ninth-inning lead at home in club history. It tied for the largest blown ninth-inning lead overall in franchise history. It was the first time the Rays squandered a five-run lead since Aug. 9, 2013. It dropped the Rays to 2-13 over their last 15 games, and the last one was as bad as any of them.
"I don't know if I have ever seen that before, where there was an offensive explosion like that in the ninth inning to come back and win a ballgame," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. Matt Andriese pitched the sixth, seventh and eighth innings with precision. He allowed no runs and threw just 27 pitches. Cash thought that the lead was safe in the ninth and believed he had the pitchers to get the job done. He said there was no thought of leaving Andriese, who is a converted starter, in the game.
"Given his recent workload and also when you separate the game to five runs -- a five-run lead, we're capable of having pitchers that need to go out there and get the job done for us," said Cash.
On Thursday night, they Rays did not.
Garton came in, saying he felt the best he had all season. First it was a single through the second-base hole by Cameron Maybin. Miguel Cabrera followed with a line drive to left-center field. Victor Martinez then singled to right and Nick Castellanos followed that up with a base hit of his own. The bases were loaded, it was 7-3 and there were no outs.
"It's just baseball being baseball," Garton said. "Guys find holes, make good swings. Happens."
Ramirez came in, saying he felt fine pitching his second day in a row. Justin Upton immediately singled to make it 7-4. Steven Moya hit a sac fly, but a single by Jarrod Saltalamacchia followed by two walks tied the game.
Then Maybin, who started the inning, finished the rally with a three-run double to the gap.
"Just awful work from me," Ramirez said. "I didn't do what I was supposed to do."
Without injured closer Alex Colome to go to in the ninth inning, the Rays don't have many reliable options. But with a five-run lead, Cash thought going to Garton, who hadn't allowed a run in 8 2/3 consecutive innings, would be safe. It wasn't. When it became Ramirez's job to clean up the mess, he only made it worse.
"We always talk about how hitting gets contagious," Cash said. "That was one contagious inning for them."