ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays had reason to be disappointed after Wednesday's 5-4 loss to the Angels, if only because unlike so many other nights, they didn't come back enough, and the other team did.
But there was also a lesson in how they lost: tying the score in the eighth, then allowing the winning run in the ninth — an example of how fine the margin can be during the final six weeks of the regular season, and whatever lies beyond.
"Everything becomes more magnified, and that's a good thing," manager Joe Maddon said. "Pressure's great."
The Rays (77-49) dropped a half-game behind the Angels for the best record in the American League but maintained their 4½ game East division lead over Boston, and head to Chicago for a weekend series against the Central-leading White Sox.
The difference Wednesday was slight, and after starters Matt Garza and Jered Weaver did their part, the game changed on a trio of close plays.
The Rays were down 4-3 with one out in the eighth when they rallied, B.J. Upton doubling and Carlos Pena doing the same to tie it, and Cliff Floyd following with a hard single to right.
Pena had no way of knowing if the low liner would get through the infield, so he froze momentarily and had to hold at third (especially with strong-armed rightfielder Vladimir Guerrero throwing). He got no further as Willy Aybar and Ben Zobrist made outs.
"If only I was a fortune teller," Pena said. "If I was Miss Cleo, I would have been at home plate."
Rookie leftfielder Justin Ruggiano was a defensive replacement for Zobrist in the ninth and quickly become involved. After Grant Balfour's leadoff walk of Chone Figgins and a failed bunt, Mark Teixeira lofted a fly to shallow left that Ruggiano let drop in front of him, and he even tried to deke the runners by acting as if he had it.
Maddon, among others, "thought he was going to catch it easily," and Angels manager Mike Scioscia, among others, thought he lost it in the lights.
But Ruggiano said it was neither, that he may have been playing deeper than he "should have been" and stopped short on purpose because he didn't want to risk a dive and have the ball get by him.
"The way I saw that play going down, I thought I made the right decision … and looking back at it, I still think it's the right decision to keep the double play in order with one out in the inning," Ruggiano said.
Said Scioscia: "That was definitely a break."
With first and second, the Angels pulled off a double steal, with the call at third on Figgins questionable enough for Maddon to come out for a discussion, thought a much calmer and quieter one than Tuesday when he was ejected. "I wanted to try to maintain decorum tonight," he said.
The Rays intentionally walked Guerrero to load the bases and got one out on a force at the plate. But they gave up the decisive run when Garret Anderson grounded a ball up the middle that Akinori Iwamura, who was shifted in the hole, dived to get a glove on but couldn't hang on to to get the force at second. It was initially scored an error — which Scioscia ridiculed — then changed to a hit, extending Anderson's hitting streak to 23 games.
"The ball hit the glove and I wanted to make an out right there," Iwamura said. "That was a crucial situation."
There may be plenty over the final 36 games.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.