ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon made reference to Meat Loaf's hit song Two Out of Three Ain't Bad after the Rays' 9-4 loss to the Blue Jays in a Sunday matinee at Tropicana Field.
Indeed, Tampa Bay had taken the first two games of its weekend series against Toronto's top arms — A.J. Burnett and All-Star Roy Halladay — with pitching gems of its own.
"We Meat Loaf-ed them actually, so you've gotta be happy with that," Maddon said.
But the first-place Rays couldn't complete the sweep against journeyman lefty John Parrish and six relievers, including ex-Ray Shawn Camp, who picked up the win. The Rays, who have sometimes struggled against lefties, got a rare outburst of runs — scoring at least four for just the third time in nine games — but between Edwin Jackson's struggles and the bullpen gave up the most earned runs at home this year in front of 21,037.
Tampa Bay (57-40), having lost eight of its past 10, is still 11/2 games ahead of Boston in the AL East. But as the Rays prepare to face three consecutive left-handers in a series with the A's at the Trop, they took solace in the fact they won their 12th home series in 13 tries.
"I think once we get the first two games out of the way with them two (Burnett and Halladay), it's like, 'God, we got past their best two,' and it's a little bit of a letdown to let them slide off that series,'' Rays rookie third baseman Evan Longoria said. "But it's all right. Two out of three has kind of got to be our focus right now."
Unlike James Shields and Matt Garza the previous two nights, starter Edwin Jackson (5-7) didn't have his best stuff, battling through only 41/3 innings while giving up six runs and eight hits (the Rays are 0-7 when he doesn't last six innings). The two biggest blows were a two-run homer by Alex Rios in the third and a three-run shot by Marco Scutaro in the fifth.
"It's a game of mistakes, and today they hit the ball and made me pay," Jackson said.
The Rays' bats did give Jackson a lead in the third inning, thanks to back-to-back homers by Longoria and Carlos Pena. It was the 18th (most among rookies) for Longoria, who was the designated hitter to give his sore left ankle a rest.
But Tampa Bay mustered just two hits after that, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. The closest the Rays came to scoring again was in the fourth, when Jonny Gomes — making a rare start — walked and stole second but was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a fly to center. Gomes, who also had a ground-rule double, appeared to beat the throw, but catcher Gregg Zaun blocked the plate. "A bang-bang play," Gomes said. "Could have gone either way."
The bullpen, which has been one of the biggest reasons for the Rays' remarkable run, struggled for the second straight day. Jason Hammel gave up two runs in 12/3, with left-hander Trever Miller uncharacteristically walking three (one intentionally) in giving up a run.
Al Reyes, making his second appearance since coming off the disabled list (right shoulder tendinitis), did rack up five straight outs late.
"You can only fight back so many times," Maddon said. "When you play 162 games, just think about the thought and energy that goes on within your mind to continually fight back. It's difficult to do that maybe three or four times within a game. So when you catch leads, you've got to keep it."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.