ST. PETERSBURG — For all the Rays gained over the previous 10 days of an exciting and dramatic homestand, they left Tropicana Field on Sunday afternoon with a sense of loss.
The wasted chances that led to the frustrating 3-2 loss to the Astros were bad enough. And there was more.
After sweeping the best-in-baseball Cubs to run their home winning streak to nine straight series (since April 18-20), including wins over the first-place Red Sox, Angels and White Sox, the Rays lost two of three to a fifth-place Houston team that had lost eight straight, ending a 6-3 homestand.
And as a result, they lost ground to the Red Sox, who extended their AL East lead to 1½ games with an extra-inning win Sunday.
"We should be frustrated," DH Cliff Floyd said. "We should be ticked off. We feel we're a good team, and when you have a good team, you expect to win every time you step on the field, especially at home."
The Rays (44-31) have gotten this far primarily with pitching and defense, and the lack of offense seems to be a growing concern. They've scored more than five only twice in their past 11 games, and, though ranking in middle of the AL with a .262 team average (and .264 with runners in scoring position), they're not taking advantage of the opportunities they have had.
"We have to get better and more consistent offensively," manager Joe Maddon said. "I know it's going to happen. I know our guys and our coaching staff are working very hard to get that done, and it's going to happen."
"Our hitting has to get better," Floyd said. "As a whole, everybody, we all have to just get better. Of course you're going to miss opportunities, and that's part of the game. Overall, pitching has been holding it down for us, and we're going to have to come through, and we will."
Sunday, before a crowd of 19,778, the Rays "absolutely pitched well enough to win," Maddon said. Scott Kazmir allowed the three runs on a pair of home runs, though both on two-strike counts, a solo shot to Hunter Pence in the fifth and a two-run missile to Carlos Lee on Kazmir's 106th and final pitch in the sixth.
Kazmir obviously wasn't as pleased, as he was nearly off the mound when Maddon came out to get him and left the clubhouse before it was opened to reporters. Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler and Trever Miller continued their fine work behind him.
But the Rays got only six hits off former teammate Brandon Backe and four relievers, and their only runs on a two-run homer in the second by Evan Longoria, his major-league rookie- and team-high matching 12th.
They left runners on second and third twice, and they had catcher Dioner Navarro thrown out easily trying to score from second for the last out of the fourth (Maddon said he was okay with third-base coach Tom Foley's decision; Navarro said he "was just following orders") and Carl Crawford caught trying to steal third to end the fifth.
Maddon said the preparation and the intensity and the effort are all fine. It's just a matter of execution.
"We have to continue to win games like today. We had every chance to win that," he said. "We just have to keep talking about getting a little more sturdy offensively. We're just not there yet."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]es.com.