ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Even if Chris Flexen’s competitive instincts, mistaken as they were in the moment, hadn’t taken over and he had let his teammates field a potential inning-ending ground ball up the middle instead of trying to stop it with the back of his leg, the Mariners weren’t guaranteed victory.
They would’ve still needed to score another run at some point Thursday, and there was little evidence to think that was going to happen.
Having to make a bullpen start Thursday, the Rays used six pitchers, none throwing three complete innings, to pull out a 2-1 victory and take the three-game series 2-1.
“We didn’t have much going offensively today,” M’s manager Scott Servais. “You lose a couple of one-run games here. We’ve been going so good offensively, so it’s disappointing when you get beat 3-2 and 2-1 in the final game of the series.”
It was Tampa Bay’s first series win over Seattle since August 2019.
The frustrating moment for Flexen came in the bottom of the seventh with the score tied at 1.
After giving up back-to-back singles to start the inning, Flexen coaxed Taylor Walls into hitting a ground ball to second base that Adam Frazier turned into a double play.
With two outs and the go-ahead run at third base in Harold Ramirez, Brett Phillips, who had already driven in the Rays’ only run in the game, came to the plate. Flexen got ahead quickly, firing a pair of fastballs for called strikes. But his 0-2 change-up stayed up above the strike zone, allowing Phillips to hit a comebacker to the mound.
Flexen threw his back leg up to stop the ball, which was unfortunate for Seattle, because the infielders were playing a shift with third baseman Abraham Toro at shortstop and shortstop J.P. Crawford playing near the second-base bag on the right-field side. Either could have made a play. Instead, the ball hit off Flexen’s thigh and bounced toward third base, allowing Ramirez to race home.
“Yeah, if the ball doesn’t hit the pitcher, it’s going to be out,” Ramirez said. “So it’s good that it hit him.”
When Flexen saw what had happened, he dropped his head in frustration before screaming into his glove in rage at his mistake. It ended what had been his best outing of the season.
“As soon as I knocked it down, I knew,” Flexen said. “Just very poor on my part. We had a guy sitting right there to get out of that situation. We get the double play and the guys are battling on defensively and just a poor job on my part.”
Similar to the previous six innings, Seattle couldn’t answer in the eighth or ninth. Julio Rodriguez reached on a fielder’s choice and stole second to get into scoring position with two outs. But pinch hitter Tom Murphy struck out looking on a disputed call to end the game.
Flexen, who fell to 1-3 on the season, pitched 6⅔ innings, allowing two runs on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
Seattle took a 1-0 lead in the first when Eugenio Suarez’s soft fly ball to right field bounced over the head Manuel Margot. It went for a RBI triple.
After escaping the first inning without allowing run despite a leadoff walk, Flexen walked Ramirez to start the second inning. He scored on Phillips’ two-out single to right field.