ST. PETERSBURG — With ace David Price gone, the Rays' already thin margin for error in the playoff race has shrunk even more.
And that makes Friday night's 5-3 loss to the Angels at Tropicana Field even more troubling to manager Joe Maddon.
"There are no moral victories," Maddon said. "We've got to start winning games, and that's a game right there we should have not permitted to get away."
But starter Jeremy Hellickson failed to get through five innings, and the Rays' top three hitters left the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth for their second consecutive loss and third in the past five games.
Combined with Baltimore's win over Seattle, the Rays (53-56) fell 81/2 games back in the AL East.
The urgency is so extreme that Maddon has started calling this month "Aug-tember" to stress a September mind-set in August. If the Rays' effort was there, their execution was not.
The Angels lit up Hellickson early, chasing him with four runs in 42/3 innings. Mike Trout knocked Hellickson's eighth pitch for a two-run home run. Five of the six hits Hellickson allowed went for extra bases, including two doubles off the wall.
"I've just got to be better in the first inning," Hellickson said.
Josh Hamilton added to the Angels' offense, blasting a solo home run down the rightfield line against the club that drafted him No. 1 overall in 1999. (Hamilton left with a bruised finger after being hit by a Jeff Beliveau pitch in the seventh. His status is unknown.)
With Friday's 80-pitch outing, Hellickson has thrown only 132/3 innings in three starts since returning from January elbow surgery. He hasn't lasted seven innings since July 5, 2013, and has gotten through six in only three of his past 13 starts.
"That's not going to work," Maddon said. "He has to go deeper into games."
And if the Rays want to make the postseason, they have to start taking advantage of opportunities such as the ones they had in front of an announced 20,969.
The Rays missed one opportunity with a fluke — Evan Longoria knocking knees with first-base umpire Larry Vanover to end the fifth down 4-3. A slowed Longoria was thrown out trying to get to second after a throwing error.
James Loney and Yunel Escobar stranded Longoria at second in the eighth, but the biggest problem came in the ninth.
The Rays' 7-8-9 hitters loaded the bases with no outs, but the Rays couldn't convert. Desmond Jennings struck out. Ben Zobrist ripped a foul down the rightfield line before striking out. And after ripping a foul down the leftfield line, Matt Joyce flied out to centerfield to end it.
"Here comes 1-2-3, we can't get anything done," Maddon said. "That's really disappointing."
Maddon said nothing felt different in the dugout without Price. Before the game, players said they still believe a historic comeback is possible even without one of the game's top pitchers and one of the clubhouse's undisputed leaders.
But time is running out.
"We just have to be better in that moment," Maddon said. "We've got to figure it out somehow. There's no more mulligans."
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.