On Saturday afternoon, the Tampa Bay Rays entered the ninth inning with a 3-1 lead over the New York Yankees. Fernando Rodney -- months removed from a historically great season but scuffling early this year -- recorded two quick outs and appeared on his way to righting a capsizing ship. Instead, Rodney jumped overboard.
He allowed three hits and sprinkled in a balk on his way to blowing the save and forcing extra innings. The Yankees won the game after 11 innings and sent the Rays to their 16th loss of the season in which they held a lead, tied for the second most in the league, according to research by Baseball Prospectus' Ryan Lind.
The longer a team succeeds, the more its key characteristics define it. For the Rays, that means synonymy with good pitching and defense. General manager Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon have overseen five consecutive winning seasons -- including three playoff berths -- behind units capable of pitching and catching as well as any in the league. Yet this Rays team has gone in the opposite direction, wasting strong offensive performances with shaky work on the mound and good-but-not-great defensive work. Now in the middle of an identity crisis, the Rays need to figure out whether they can return to form or survive by winning slugfests in the spirit of their AL East rivals.