MINNEAPOLIS — The pain was obvious as Joel Peralta stood in the corner of the quiet Rays clubhouse Sunday afternoon, insisting no one could understand how awful he felt.
"I don't think you know," Peralta said. "I don't think you get there. Really bad."
Peralta had just given away another game the Rays needed to win and should have won — "Easily," manager Joe Maddon offered — allowing four eighth-inning runs on a pair of two-out homers, the result a staggering 6-4 loss to the Twins.
"We're playing better now, and that's why it feels so bad to go out there and blow it when the last couple games we've been really good," Peralta said. "So it really hurt."
The extent of the damage is not clear.
The Rangers also lost, for a sixth straight time, so with 14 games left the teams remain tied atop the still-crowded field for the two American League wild-cards spots, sporting 81-67 records as they open a potentially critical four-game series tonight at Tropicana Field. The Indians are a half-game back; the Orioles, 2½; the Yankees, three; and the Royals, 3½.
The Rays had felt better about themselves after winning three straight, cautiously optimistic the issues of their 4-13 skid were behind them. And after taking a 3-0 lead into the seventh, thanks to a massive 440-foot homer by Wil Myers and another by Sean Rodriguez plus a solid David Price start, then a 4-2 edge into eighth, they were confident they would head home happy.
But as the Rays have done often this season, they let it get away, the 13th game they have lost when blowing a lead in the seventh inning or later.
"We've had way too many missteps already this year," Maddon said. "That's what got us into this position. We have played well enough to be a much better team record-wise than we are right now, but we just haven't closed the deal."
Peralta, usually an integral element of the Rays' success, has unexpectedly been part of the problem, losing his eighth game. Though fatigue from an AL-leading 73 appearances has been a concern at times, both Peralta and Maddon insisted that was not the issue Sunday as his fastball was fine but wayward changeups caused the trouble.
"They didn't do what they were supposed to do, and I paid for it," Peralta said.
He got the first two out in the eighth, then allowed a solo shot to Ryan Doumit on an 0-and-1 changeup. After a single by Trevor Plouffe and a five-pitch walk to Josh Willingham, he left another changeup up to Josmil Pinto, a 24-year-old catcher playing in his 11th big-league game after spending most of the season at Double A (and most of last season at Class A Fort Myers).
As opposed to Wednesday, when he could tell Peralta wasn't sharp and pulled him promptly (for Roberto Hernandez, which is another story), Maddon stuck with the 37-year-old veteran Sunday, even with Alex Torres warming.
And he plans to continue.
"Joel's been our guy all year, and that's a situation I wanted him to get through," Maddon said. "This is who we are, and for us to go deep into the playoffs it pretty much has to work this way. You only try to reinvent right now if you have an injury, otherwise you've got to stay with the tested guys. I have all the faith in the world he's going to be fine."
Maddon said the loss can't be put entirely on Peralta, as the Rays failed too many times to tack on runs — including three more with the bases loaded, making them an amazing 0-for-their-last-15 and 2-for-25.
But, he also said, "That's a game we need to win because we have really good relief pitchers, late-inning relief pitchers. And you really expect to win that."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]