ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Joe Maddon’s voice cracked with emotion. The Tampa Bay Rays are mired in the second-longest skid in the major leagues this season, yet they suffered a much greater loss with the death of club senior adviser Don Zimmer.
"We lost a good buddy tonight," Maddon, fighting back tears, said Wednesday following Tampa Bay’s ninth consecutive defeat, 5-4 to the Miami Marlins. "I’m going to miss his advice … his feistiness and fire. He was about winning, doing whatever it takes to win."
Donovan Solano hit a three-run homer off David Price and closer Steve Cishek escaped a ninth-inning jam the help the Marlins hold on for their third straight win in a four-game home-and-home series between the intrastate rivals.
Tampa Bay’s losing streak is the team’s longest in nearly five years and is becoming more frustrating by the day.
The Rays hit into three double plays for the second straight night, are 0-for-their-last 31 with runners in scoring position and will match the longest skid in the majors this season if they drop Thursday’s series finale at Tropicana Field.
Boston dropped 10 straight from May 15 to 25, with Tampa Bay handing them the last three losses in the streak. The Rays haven’t won since.
But that wasn’t the focal point in a sombre clubhouse following the game.
Maddon said he learned of Zimmer’s death during the third inning and informed his coaches, but not the players. Word gradually spread through the dugout, where third-base coach Tom Foley was spotted weeping before slipping into Zimmer’s No. 66 jersey and wearing it for the remainder of the game in memory of the former player, coach and manager, whose career in baseball spanned more than 60 years.
"The organization wanted to do it and it fell on me," Foley said. "Major League Baseball decided to have one of the coaches wear it. I was honoured to do it."
Star third baseman Evan Longoria said Zimmer will be missed on and off the field.
"Zim was a great man, and there are no words to explain what he brought to us and what he meant to me. It’s just been a rough go for us, and this kind of is the icing on the cake, so to speak," Longoria said.
"I know that he would want us to continue on and just honour him by doing all the things that he preached to us, playing the game the right way and playing the game hard. Going out there on a daily basis and really caring."
Casey McGehee had an RBI single for the Marlins, who won 1-0 on Tuesday on a bases-loaded walk.
The sputtering Rays, coming off an 0-8 trip that was the worst in team history, tumbled 14 games under .500 at 23-37 — the second-worst record in baseball. The last time they were this far below the break-even point was the end of 2007, the final season they were called the Devil Rays.
The team has made the playoffs as the Rays four of the past six seasons, but are in the midst of a horrendous offensive slump that’s seen them bat .217 on the trip to Toronto, Boston and Miami and score 21 runs during their longest skid since dropping 11 straight in September 2009.
Tom Koehler (5-5) pitched five innings for the Marlins, allowing three first-inning runs on Ben Zobrist’s two-run homer and a solo shot by Evan Longoria. Bryan Morris and Mike Dunn shut down the Rays over the next three innings, and Cishek earned his 13th save in 14 opportunities.
The Rays loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth on an error, a high-bouncing bloop double and a walk, but only scored once. Cishek walked Longoria intentionally to reload the bases with two outs, then got James Loney to pop out to end the game.
"It got a little hairy there at the end. I’ve seen that happen here, at this place, the high choppers and the bloops," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said.
"Exactly how that ninth inning happened, I’ve seen that a lot here," Redmond added. "But fortunately, Shek kept it together and was able to pitch through it, and got a couple big outs and locked down a win."
Price (4-5) allowed five runs — one earned — and nine hits in 7 1-3 innings. He struck out 11 and walked none, but paid for Longoria’s third-inning error and gave up Solano’s first home run of the season.
After being limited to two runs over the last four games of their woeful trip, the first three batters scored against Koehler, who walked David DeJesus before giving up home runs to Zobrist and Longoria, who has just one other extra-base hit in his past 23 games.
The Marlins rebounded with four unearned runs in the third, the first scoring when Longoria failed to hold onto the ball after fielding a grounder at third base and applying a tag on a sliding Marcell Ozuna for what should have been the final out of the inning.
The miscue left Miami with runners at first and third. Solano hit his homer to left field on the next pitch for a 5-3 lead.
NOTES: Tampa Bay OF Wil Myers, who will be in a cast for five to six weeks due to a stress fracture in his right wrist, is hopeful that the time off will also help a sore left wrist that he hurt early in the season. … Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson (elbow surgery) says he will make his first rehab start Saturday for Single-A Charlotte. He expects to be back before the All-Star break. … C Ryan Hanigan, on the DL with right hamstring tightness, caught Hellickson’s bullpen session. … Miami RHP Carter Capps (strained right elbow) got a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, who agreed with team doctors that the reliever can resume playing catch after a month of rest. … Marlins SS Rafael Furcal (left hamstring strain) will move his rehab assignment from Single-A Jupiter to Double-A Jacksonville on Thursday.