ARLINGTON, Texas — No matter what the Rays said about solace and satisfaction with a split after Saturday's 8-6 loss, they greedily wanted to head home clenching a two-games-to-none lead in their AL Division Series with Texas.
"Absolutely," manager Joe Maddon said. "But … but … but … under the circumstances, I thought we played great. We've been playing great baseball. To lament anything other than winning two would be great. But I'm pleased. I'm very pleased going home."
The Rays viewed Saturday's loss as an aberration, given that they had James Shields, their best pitcher, on the mound with a 3-0 lead and he let it get away with an ugly — two hit-batter, two wild-pitch, five-run, 35-pitch ugly — fourth inning, and their latest bid for a dramatic comeback fell just short.
"We just ran into a very unusual circumstance," Maddon said.
At the least, they now have homefield advantage in the best-of-five series, with two of the potential three remaining games at Tropicana Field. More so, they feel they have the pitching matchups in their favor with David Price starting Game 3 on Monday (vs. Colby Lewis) before a sellout crowd and Jeremy Hellickson in Game 4 on Tuesday (vs. Matt Harrison).
"I still think with the guys that we have going the next two days that we have an advantage," third baseman Evan Longoria said.
Shields, the 16-game winner and veteran ace of the staff, stood in front of his locker and took the blame, over and over, for the Rays not having a bigger edge.
"I didn't do my job today, that's the bottom line. I didn't do my job," he said. "It's frustrating. I came off some really good games. It's definitely frustrating for me."
The Rays took a 3-0 lead, scoring on a bases-loaded walk and a two-run homer by Matt Joyce off Texas lefty starter Derek Holland, and Shields seemed to be in command. Only once this season, July 16 vs. Boston, did he lead by three or more and they didn't win.
"We were definitely confident we had a really good chance of winning," Joyce said.
There were a series of key moments, and one controversial one, in the messy bottom of the fourth; though Shields said the first mistake was the most grievous, hitting Elvis Andrus with a 1-and-1 pitch. "Things just kind of started rolling," Shields said.
Two singles loaded the bases, then Shields — who plunked only five batters all season — hit another, forcing in a run. "That's unacceptable," he said.
Mike Napoli followed with a two-run single that tied it, then things got wild. Shields struck out Nelson Cruz and looked to get the second out on David Murphy's tapper in front of the plate, but umpire Kerwin Danley ruled the ball had hit Murphy's bat again and was foul. Maddon said he couldn't argue that point but conceded Danley "may have called it a little quickly." Shields and catcher Kelly Shoppach were sure it should have been an out.
Instead, Shields bounced one curve that hit off Shoppach's shin guard, allowing the runners to advance. Then Shields did it again for strike three, but as Shoppach moved to block it he bumped into Danley, allowing the go-ahead run to score and extending the inning for Texas to add another run. By the end, Shields had made history: the only pitcher in a postseason game to have two wild pitches and two hit batters.
"Just a lot of bad things in a short period of time," Shoppach said.
After the Rangers expanded the lead to 7-3 in the sixth, the Rays came back, as is their wont. Longoria hit a three-run homer to make it 7-6, just as he did in Wednesday's wild-card clincher, then came up in the ninth with B.J. Upton aboard with a shot at more glory, but flied to left.
"I thought it was that time again," Joyce said.
The Rangers, obviously, saw Saturday's win as a turning point. "A huge game for us," Napoli said. "For us to scrap away like we did tonight and get back in the series is huge."
The Rays, though disappointed, didn't see it as that big a loss, heading home, you know, wink-wink, satisfied with a split.
"We'll take it," Joyce said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.