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Rays looking ahead after Game 1 woes

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said the Rays were discouraged, but far from out.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said the Rays were discouraged, but far from out.

They stood there, hands stretched out in utter confusion, as if the answer to the inexplicable was somehow floating in the air between them.

Off the bat, the fly ball that David Ortiz launched to right-center field seemed like it would howl all the way to the bleachers.

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Then gravity got to it, and suddenly it seemed routine.

Right fielder Wil Myers tracked backward toward the short fence in front of the Red Sox bullpen, shades down, glove up to block the sun while waving off center fielder Desmond Jennings.

From center, Jennings was chasing it down as much as Myers.

The two Rays outfielders were close enough to make a play.

Neither did, the ball bouncing into the bullpen for a ground-rule double.

How such a thing was possible was hard for Jennings to explain.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what happened.”

It could have been the noise from a crowd that was at postseason volume for the first time in four years.

“The whole crowd thought David Ortiz hit a home run,” Jennings said. “Everybody’s yelling. It’s not really much you can hear anyway.’’

Myers said the crowd noise made it hard to hear anything, but took the blame.

“It was my fault,’’ he said. “I was calling for the ball. I messed it up. I should have made the play.”

Whatever the cause, the play was costly. It was the lowlight of an miscue-plagued five-run fourth inning that doomed the Rays in their 12-2 loss to the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

“That one play led to the big inning,” Jennings said. “We make that play, another fly ball, and we get out of the inning — one run, maybe two runs.”

From there, the mistakes piled on top of each other like a wall of mismatched Tetris pieces.

Two batters after Ortiz’s double, Jonny Gomes skied a double off the Monster to score two runs and tie the game.

Tormented by the Wall all afternoon, left fielder Sean Rodriguez said, “It’s called the Monster for a reason right?”

Jarrod Saltalamacchia fanned for the second out and it looked like Matt Moore might escape further damage. But Moore failed to get to first in time to get Stephen Drew on a grounder in the first base hole, scoring Gomes and keeping the inning alive.

The Wall played another trick on Rodriguez when Will Middlebrooks laced one off of it, with the carom bouncing over Rodriguez, allowing Drew to score the fourth run.

“It’s tough,” Rodriguez said. “That one ball Middlebrooks hit, it kicked back to my right. I wasn’t expecting that at all.”

A passed ball on strike three by Rays catcher Jose Lobaton with Jacoby Ellsbury at the plate allowed Middlebrooks to move to third. He scored an unearned run when Shane Victorino singled to right.

“What can I say? I’ve got no excuse,” Lobaton said. “I’ve got to catch that ball. It was supposed to be a little bit away, it was in, but it’s a pitch to catch. That was my fault.”

For a Rays team that committed the second-fewest errors in the American League in the regular season, it was uncharacteristic, even if they weren’t charged with an error on any of the mistakes.

“We didn’t play our best game tonight,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Fortunately it was not one of those one-and-done kind of games. We’ve been playing very well. We’ve not been making any mistakes. We made a bunch tonight, whether that [be not] covering first base and not looking home or missing a strike three.

“But mistakes will kill you. We’re normally not the team that makes those kind of mistakes. We did tonight.”

Just the day before, Red Sox manager John Farrell predicted that games might hinge on the smallest defensive plays.

The Rays proved him right.

“It definitely takes the wind out of your sail,” Rodriguez said. “You hope to be as efficient as you can defensively and not make smaller, little mistakes, but hopefully we can just put it behind us and come out tomorrow.”

Having to battle to the end just to make the postseason, including a one-game playoff against Texas just to get to the wild-card game against Cleveland, could finally have taken a toll.

But the Rays didn’t use it as an crutch.

“I don’t think that fatigue is an excuse,” Rodriguez said. “Just a bad day. We’ve been playing pretty good. The team’s doing a pretty good job. Just at that moment, we just had a bad inning and after that maybe we were a little bit down.’’

With little time dwell on the mistakes, Maddon was confident his team would bounce back.

“I’ve learned one other thing, or a main thing regarding baseball: 24 hours can make a huge difference,” Maddon said. “That’s just one game, baby. That’s just one. We’ll be back tomorrow, I promise you. We’ll be ready to play. We will not be affected mentally by tonight’s game. We’ll be ready to play.

“So it happens once in a while. Normally when it happens during the regular season, I just say throw that one in the garbage can. And being that’s the first of five, let’s do the same thing now.”

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.
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