Rays wistful about opportunities lost

Rays wistful about opportunities lost

CHICAGO -- Opportunity knocked only occasionally for the Rays on Thursday. Every time it did, Mark Buehrle and the White Sox slammed the door shut on the Rays' hitters.

The Rays were the unfortunate opponents to Buehrle's masterful performance on the mound, falling, 5-0, on Thursday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field, as Buehrle tossed a perfect game, the 18th in Major League history.

But Tampa Bay certainly produced a few gasps from the 28,036 fans in attendance on some close base-hit chances in the late innings, with each subsequent opportunity coming closer and closer to landing in play.

"Your adrenaline starts to peak," Rays right fielder Gabe Kapler said. "Generally speaking, in a 5-0 game, it might not be so in the eighth and ninth inning, but because of the situation in the game, I think everybody's focus is heightened a little bit, and rightfully so."

Tampa Bay did not manage so much as a sniff of first base for much of the contest. Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist provided one of the best early opportunities in the fifth on a ground ball deep to shortstop Alexei Ramirez that barely beat Zobrist to the bag.

The sense of urgency only mounted as Buehrle marched through the order for a second and third time.

"The thought is when it gets in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, everybody's at-bats become more crucial," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "It really felt throughout the course of the game, especially when it got late, that it wasn't even so much about winning the game as it was getting a hit. It's a little bit embarrassing to be on the opposing side of it."

In the seventh, Rays center fielder B.J. Upton just missed a leadoff double when he lined a pitch inches from the left-field foul line. And in the eighth, Pat Burrell ripped a 1-2 pitch inches wide of the left-field foul line, so close that it nearly knocked down third-base umpire Laz Diaz, who was standing on the line.

"I was hoping," Burrell said of the liner. "But it was foul."

White Sox third baseman Gordon Beckham, who was playing close to the line, said he wouldn't have had a chance if the ball had swerved fair.

"The only thing I'm thinking is, 'Of course it's me. Of course it's me that would give this up,'" Beckham said of the perfect game. "But when it went past me, it went past me so quick, I didn't even see it hit the ground. Next thing I know, Laz, the umpire, is jumping up in the air and I knew it was foul just from where he was. I couldn't believe it. I was just so happy it went foul."

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said he would have come out to argue the call, but Rays third-base coach Tom Foley signaled to Maddon that the ball was, in fact, just foul.

All of those opportunities led to the biggest opportunity of them all with nobody out in the top of the ninth inning.

That was when Kapler launched a 2-2 pitch that appeared headed over the wall in deep left-center field before Dewayne Wise, who entered the contest moments earlier as a defensive replacement, made an outstanding leaping catch at the wall to bring back what would have been a perfect-game-ending home run.

"I didn't know if it was a home run or not," Maddon said. "[With] the angle on the ball, I thought he had a chance because of where it was going to come down. Into the gap, it obviously would have been in good shape. But Wise just ran a great route. He just wanted to make that catch, and he did."

Kapler said he was merely trying to mimic the approach of Burrell, who put good swings on Buehrle's pitches. Kapler also credited Wise for making a catch he'll remember for a long time to come.

"As a defensive player, you think about doing something like that for your teammates, and there's not a more overwhelmingly positive experience than doing something like that for your teammate," Kapler said. "You visualize something like that. That's the only way you make a play like he made, by seeing it happen before it happens."

In the end, however, the Rays couldn't muster the one hit they desperately craved and went down in order in every inning, eyewitnesses to perfection.

"They made some great defensive plays, and [Buehrle] made pitches when he needed to," Upton said. "You put that together, I guess you've got a perfect game."

Jesse Temple is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.