NEW YORK — The missed opportunity of Sunday afternoon was bad enough, and the Rays knew it even if they didn't say it. They had All-Star David Price on the mound, a three-run lead 10 pitches into the game and Yankees starter Andy Pettitte out by the third inning with an injury with a thin bullpen behind him. And yet they still lost 9-5.
But more significant might be the waste of the whole weekend as they had a chance to win all three games at Yankee Stadium and sweep their way back to the top of the American League East but instead gave two away and find themselves a season-high matching three games back.
"That's two big games right there," infielder Sean Rodriguez said. "Turn them around the other way, and we're sitting a lot more comfortable."
But for the most part, from manager Joe Maddon on down, the Rays (55-36) tried hard to minimize the impact, taking the long-term view of having 71 games — including 10 with the Yankees — remaining.
"We've got a lot of baseball left," Evan Longoria said.
"That's kind of a cliche thing to say, and I hate to say it over and over and then we look up and there's 20 games left in the season. But we're fresh off the All-Star break, and we've got a chance to win a game (tonight) and keep moving forward.'
And the Yankees were equally cautious not to make too much of it.
"It's just important overall to come out of the weekend winning two out of three," said Alex Rodriguez, who hit his 598th homer.
But the reality was the Rays had a prime chance for a victory that would have been important now and could be even more critical later and let it slip away.
Price was an unexpected part of the problem, allowing a season-high seven runs over a rough five innings and blaming himself for not being fully prepared coming off his All-Star turn.
"Pretty brutal," he said.
And the lack of clutch hitting remains a consistent concern, evidenced by their 2-for-14 showing with runners in scoring position and 12 men left on base.
"This has been somewhat of our problem, just missing these opportunities offensively," Maddon said. "We just have to get better."
Sunday, there was even a defensive lapse as Gabe Kapler — playing leftfield after Maddon decided late Saturday to use Carl Crawford at designated hitter — mistimed his jump for Robinson Cano's drive to the wall, playing what he admitted later was "in theory" a catchable ball into a two-run triple.
Suddenly, the 3-0 first-inning lead from steadily warming Carlos Peña's 20th homer of the season was down to 3-2. And as good as the Rays felt when Pettitte left with two on and one out in the third with a groin strain — "I thought, 'We've got a real good chance,' " Longoria said — it didn't work out that way.
A parade of undistinguished relievers, led by Dave Robertson, who got Rodriguez to pop out (on a 2-and-0 fastball) and B.J. Upton to fly out to escape a bases loaded jam, kept them off the board despite myriad opportunities, until Kapler homered with two outs in the seventh down 8-3.
Maddon kept talking about the positives, about how well they played overall over the weekend.
"Of course, we did not want to come out of here with two losses," he said. "But again, it's a long season. I like the way we played baseball."
They'll see the Yankees again soon enough, July 30-Aug. 1 at the Trop. But there are 10 games that also are important before then, including three with the MLB-worst Orioles starting tonight then three with the equally bad Indians in Cleveland, where the Rays haven't won since 2005.
"We can't really have a letdown right now," Longoria said.
"We can't really fall into a lull."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.