HOUSTON — Rays manager Joe Maddon is quickly becoming aware of how "impressively strong" Astros slugger Chris Carter is.
"You make a mistake with him," Maddon said, "and it's going to be hit far."
The Rays saw that first-hand in Wednesday's 4-1 loss to Houston. Carter ripped two mammoth home runs, including the go-ahead three-run shot in the seventh inning off Jake McGee that went 413 feet and hit the train tracks above the leftfield wall at Minute Maid Park.
"That was properly struck," Maddon said. "That was back-wall anywhere. That was incredible."
McGee was brought into the game for his strikeout ability, with the score tied and runners on first and third with no outs. He has shown his ability to wiggle out of jams, most recently in his Houdini-like escape in a bases-loaded, no-outs spot Sunday.
He had a pretty good battle with Carter, the 6-foot-4, 244-pound leftfielder fouling off two 3-and-2 pitches. McGee then tried to throw a fastball away, but he "yanked it" down and in.
"It just ran back right into (Carter's) power zone," McGee said.
It was the 17th homer for Carter, 26, one more than his career high, set last year.
The Rays (45-40), coming off consecutive shutouts of the America League-worst Astros (31-54), had a four-game winning streak end, as well as a club-record-matching 24-inning scoreless streak. In doing so, Tampa Bay fell into fourth place in the American League East, 61/2 games behind the Red Sox.
"You're not going to do it every night. They're humans, not robots," Maddon said. "Our guys came ready to play. We just got outptiched."
It's not that Rays starter Roberto Hernandez pitched poorly. Hernandez (4-10) was solid, breezing through six innings (on just 64 pitches) and allowing just a solo homer to Carter to lead off the second, the Astros' first run in 22 innings.
But after racking up a combined 20 runs in the first two games against Houston, the Rays mustered just one against right-hander Bud Norris.
It has been a recurring theme for Hernandez. In his 10 losses, Tampa Bay has scored a total of 13 runs with him in the game.
"He's been pitching very well with some very bad luck," Maddon said. "Everything is good. We just haven't scored any runs for the guy."
Said second baseman Ben Zobrist: "You have to feel bad for him."
The Rays had a promising start, scoring in the first as Desmond Jennings singled, stole second and came in on a sacrifice fly by Zobrist. First baseman James Loney picked up two more hits to extend his hitting streak to 14 games, and struggling Matt Joyce got a single and a walk. Kelly Johnson continued to play a strong third base as Evan Longoria (plantar fasciitis) serves as temporary designated hitter.
But the Rays squandered several chances, stranding a runner on second in the second, fifth and sixth against Norris, who snapped a three-game losing streak but has given up just two combined runs over his past two starts (against the Angels and Rays).
"We just didn't get the big hit when we needed it," Zobrist said. "I got some pitches to hit. I know other guys got some pitches to hit. Maybe we just didn't capitalize on those."
Hernandez got into trouble in the seventh, giving up a leadoff double to Brett Wallace and a single to Jason Castro to put runners on first and third with no outs. Maddon pulled Hernandez, after just 78 pitches, and brought in McGee.
"It was a good spot for Jake," Maddon said. "It just didn't work out."