BALTIMORE — The Rays made several mistakes that led directly to Friday's 4-3 loss to the Orioles, spotlighted by the fat fastball Joel Peralta threw that Nick Johnson turned into the game-deciding homer and the bad decision Sean Rodriguez made on the bases that cost them at least one run.
Afterward, manager Joe Maddon acknowledged the recurring number of small errors is becoming a big problem that needs to be addressed.
"We're playing hard," Maddon said. "We're playing hard. We're making too many little mistakes that are really getting in the way of victory. We've got to really curtail the mistakes execution-wise. But otherwise, I'm really pleased with the effort."
Though 20-13 overall and just a game behind the first-place Orioles in the AL East, the Rays have lost five of their past six, and the problems have been widespread. The defense has been sloppy, the pitching inconsistent and the offense, albeit missing some key pieces, inefficient.
And from what Maddon, who rarely criticizes, said, the managing and coaching are also flawed.
"I think they're creeping into everywhere a little bit," Maddon said. "It's infestation, I think, regarding little mistakes. And that lies on my shoulders. I've got to make sure we don't make little mistakes."
"You talk about it," he said. "You've got to coach it up. And you've got to make sure everyone is on board and understands moments and situations. We do. The coaching staff does a great job preparing our players. We just have to be able to react a little bit better in the moment."
With a much-improved start from Jeremy Hellickson, the Rays overcame their own early lapses to take a 3-1 lead. But Hellickson allowed his second homer to make it 3-2 in the sixth. And when he gave up a two-out single in the seventh on his 95th pitch, Maddon made his move, having decided before the inning Hellickson wouldn't pitch to Johnson,.
He brought in Peralta, a right-hander he likes to use against lefties, to face Johnson, who worked the count full and eventually took advantage of Peralta's mistake on the eighth pitch, hitting his first homer since May 5, 2010.
"I felt really good about Joel," Maddon said. "Like really, really good right there. With two strikes, I did not see that one coming. That was kind of out of leftfield — out of rightfield, actually."
Peralta said after he got ahead in the count, Johnson foiled him by not swinging at a couple of good pitches.
"Then I just threw a fastball that was supposed to be down and away. And I missed the spot, and he got it," he said. "And that was the game right there."
The Rays should have had a bigger lead.
They loaded the bases in the second and got only one run out of it — on a double-play grounder — then loaded them again in the fourth.
Elliot Johnson drove a ball off the rightfield wall but — indicative of how the Rays are going — they got only one run out of it.
Uncertain if Nick Markakis was going to catch it, Rodriguez went back to second base to tag rather than going halfway as he should have. He tried to score anyway and was thrown out, trying to make up for his mistake by crashing into catcher Matt Wieters, who held on to the ball.
"Maybe guys are trying to do too much sometimes," Rodriguez said. "Like me right there, I've got to score right there. No excuse for not being further off the bag so I can score.
"I score right there, the game's still tied."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.