Theoretically, days like Thursday are why you sign Robbie Ray.

When you’ve lost seven of eight and place your tattered hopes in the left hand of a verifiable streak-snapper …

When your offense has managed two combined runs in its last three games …

When it’s cold and misting and the roof is mercifully extended over an “electric factory” experiencing an outage …

When the visiting Tampa Bay Rays were winners of their last three games …

That’s when you hand the ball to the reigning Cy Young — a momentum changer, a capital-A Ace, a coldhearted assassin in tight white pants. That’s when you ride a barrage of audible grunts and back-foot sliders. That’s when, theoretically, you snap the streak.

Instead, Ray surrendered four runs in the top of the fourth inning Thursday, and the Rays held on for a series-opening 4-3 win.

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“Robbie did his job tonight. He really did,” Mariners manager Scott Servais maintained. “You look at the inning where he gave up the four runs, and it was a bunt hit, a couple bloop singles and a home run. Then you look up and it’s a four-spot and you’re behind the eight ball.”

In 6 2/3 innings, Ray allowed seven hits and four earned runs, with five strikeouts and a walk. He was out-dueled by fellow lefty Shane McClanahan — who went 5 1/3 innings and yielded three hits and two earned runs with five punch-outs.

Tampa right fielder Manuel Margot kicked off that fateful fourth with a bunt single to third base, then promptly stole second. After Randy Arozarena struck out, designated hitter Harold Ramirez drove him in with a line-drive single to left. Third baseman Isaac Paredes followed with a bloop single to center, which brought up former Mariner Mike Zunino — who did what he does.

Granted, he didn’t do much of anything in his first 17 games. The 31-year-old catcher entered Thursday’s second at-bat with a .132 batting average.

But after Ray fell behind 3-1, he redirected a 93-mph fastball over the left-field bullpen for a towering, all-too-familiar three-run shot.

“It’s really tough when you fall behind 3-0 (and later 3-1),” Servais said with a laugh. “There’s no question. For whatever reason, we couldn’t get ahead of Z tonight. He was in positive counts all night long. It’s not a good place to be. It’s not a great place to live. The results won’t always go your way.

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“We know Mike’s got power, and he got a fastball low in the zone that he could do damage with. We were just trying to get back in the count, and he made us pay.”

Even so, Ray rebounded — scattering two hits in 2 2/3 scoreless innings the rest of the way.

“At that point (after the fourth inning) I’m just telling myself, ‘Get as deep as you can into this ballgame,’” said Ray (2-3), who threw 102 pitches. “I’ve had some good mentors along the way to help me out with situations like that. Your pitch count gets elevated and it’s just, ‘Get as deep as you can. Save the bullpen. Keep the team in it, and do your best to get into the sixth or seventh inning if you can.’”

McClanahan didn’t allow a hit in his first four innings Thursday — mixing 100-mph fastballs, 90-mph change-ups and sweeping curveballs with unsurprising success. He was also aided by third baseman Isaac Paredes, who laid out to stab a 100 mph Ty France grounder and end the third inning with a pair of walks stranded on first and third.

“He’s a lefty starter that throws 100. So we’ll start there,” said Mariners left fielder Jesse Winker, when asked what made McClanahan difficult to hit. “He was locating, good breaking stuff on both sides of the plate. He’s a special pitcher, for sure.”

But the Mariners’ first hit also doubled as Winker’s first homer. In his 107th at-bat with the Mariners, the former Cincinnati Red drilled a 94 mph fastball into the batter’s eye in dead center for a 104-mph solo shot. The lanky lefty rounded second as T-Mobile Park’s lights flickered on and off, a spark of electricity returning to the building.

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The Mariners added a second run in the bottom of the sixth, when third baseman Eugenio Suarez ricocheted an RBI single off the glove of reliever Jason Adam, scoring France from third. But with one out and runners on first and third, Adam rebounded to strike out Julio Rodriguez and induce a Winker flyout to center to extinguish the rally.

And yet, Winker was not the only lefty to crank his first homer as a Mariner on Thursday. With two outs in the seventh, Adam Frazier yanked a 92-mph fastball from reliever Colin Poche inside the right-field foul pole for a solo shot that cut the deficit to 4-3. Though Paul Sewald struck out the side in the ninth, the Mariners didn’t manage another hit the rest of the way.

Still, for the suddenly free-falling Mariners, three runs and five hits may have felt like an offensive outburst. But a fallible fourth inning proved too much to overcome.

Note

  • Mariners catcher Tom Murphy was originally in Thursday’s lineup, before being scratched with a neck spasm. Servais said he’s “hopeful” Murphy — who’s hitting .323 through 13 games — will be back Friday.

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