TORONTO — J.P. Howell said there is no worse feeling.
He had already given up a ninth-inning homer that cost the Rays the lead against the Blue Jays on Wednesday and had walked the bases loaded, then one strike from the end of what already was a tortuous inning, he threw the game away by throwing a wild pitch.
"Terrible feeling," Howell said, standing at his locker, staring into space, speaking in staccato bursts. "This is as bad as it gets as a relief pitcher. Everyone does so much work to get there and you just want to get out of there. It's a funny game, man."
The final score was 3-2, as Howell's curveball bounced about 5 feet in front of the plate, then off catcher Gregg Zaun's shin guard and into the air down the first-base line, allowing Marco Scutaro to score.
"It popped straight up in the air," Zaun said. "Unfortunately it just seemed to hang there for about six seconds, so we had no chance to make a play."
Howell felt just as helpless.
"I just said it's over and you try to move on right then and there," he said. "You try not to even carry it one more step with you as you cross the chalks. That's what I try to do, but obviously it's a little more difficult in that situation.
"Especially with what's going on right now, we're trying to really make a push and playing great, and just don't let this affect us, and move on."
That part of the result won't be known for a few days, as the Rays have to sit on this crushing loss until Friday, then open a treacherous stretch of 17 straight games against the Tigers, Red Sox and Yankees.
As it is, they dropped to 69-57 and four games behind the AL wild-card leading Red Sox with 36 left. And rather than complete their sixth three-game series sweep, they instead failed for the seventh time after taking the first two.
"We had it," manager Joe Maddon said. "And we gave it up."
The Rays took a 2-1 lead into the ninth, behind a Gabe Kapler homer and a strong start by Scott Kazmir.
But Howell, for the second time in five games, blew the save. "That's the way it's going right now,'' he said. "I've been scrapping a little bit. That's what it is. It's time for me to move on.''
After getting the last out of the eighth — just the second time he has been asked to get a save of more than three outs — he got one out in the ninth.
But he allowed a pinch-hit homer to Rod Barajas (who is now 4-for-7 with three homers off him) that tied it, and it got worse from there.
"Curveball," Howell said. "He was sitting on it, obviously, and he crushed it. That's where the problem was."
Howell then gave up a four-pitch walk to Scutaro, and after an out, walked Vernon Wells and Kevin Millar. He was ahead of Randy Ruiz 1-and-2 when he made the final mistake, the third time the Rays have lost on a walkoff wild pitch.
"I think I was just missing," Howell said. "I guess that's what you say. It's obvious to say if you give up a home run and you walk guys it looks like you're scared, and you know what, that's what you have to look at. You have to say you can't do that. It is what it is. After you give up a home run like that, you need to move on, and I think I did, but the results didn't come."
Maddon backed Howell, and said: "I don't know how the strike zone looked at the very end, there might have been a couple pretty close calls.''
The Rays were held hitless into the sixth by Jays rookie lefty Marc Rzepczynski, then quickly took a 2-0 lead. Pat Burrell singled for their first hit, and Kapler, playing for injured Carl Crawford, followed with a homer, his fifth.
Kazmir gave the Rays a strong start, striking out 10 for the first time in more than a year, and held the Jays scoreless into the sixth, when doubles by Millar and Jose Bautista produced a run.
The start was a continuation of Kazmir's recent surge, as he'd won four of his past five. He allowed only four hits and one run and pitched his way out of trouble several times. The only flaw was he lasted only six innings, having thrown 108 pitches.
The game was marred by injuries to umpires Jerry Crawford, who left with back spasms, and Tom Hallion, who was struck in his chest by a Kazmir pitch but returned to work third base after a delay.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.