ST. PETERSBURG — With the Rays facing their longest losing streak in more than two years, shortstop Yunel Escobar brought some levity, and laughter, to an already loose clubhouse Tuesday afternoon.
Escobar walked around smiling, wearing a cardboard sign around his neck that stated the obvious:
"We need to win."
Pretty soon, that message may take a more serious tone. But the Rays still weren't hitting the panic button Tuesday night, even after their sixth straight loss, 5-4 to the Mariners that dropped them four games back of the Red Sox in the American League East. It's their longest losing streak since they dropped their first six of the 2011 season, and it has been a group effort, with spotty starting pitching and struggles with runners in scoring position the main culprits.
"It seems like when it rains, it pours," second baseman Ben Zobrist said.
Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged the Rays (66-51) are going through a rough stretch but said he is not concerned, believing it's how they handle this moment that matters most.
"Right now, nothing seems to be jelling," Maddon said. "No excuses. We're good enough to beat anybody on any night. I've not seen a team better than us right now, quite frankly."
Rays rookie right-hander Chris Archer wasn't as sharp as he normally is, charged with five runs on nine hits, pulled one hitter into the sixth after 91 pitches. Archer said the forearm tightness that forced him to leave his last start in the second inning was not an issue, with Maddon saying it was more his shaky fastball command.
Archer felt he made good pitches, but "sometimes good isn't enough."
"I take full responsibility for this loss," Archer said. "It's on me."
Archer gave up a leadoff homer to Seattle rookie shortstop Brad Miller, 23, the first of two by the Orlando native playing in front of many family and friends among the 13,294 at Tropicana Field. Zobrist also led off the first with a homer, the 100th of his career, saying he kept the ball from a "pretty cool milestone." Zobrist added a tying two-run shot in the fifth, making it the third time since 1916 both teams' leadoff hitters had multi-homer games. It also was Zobrist's third multihomer game.
Miller, noting that he was at the Trop for Zobrist's first career homer back in 2006, found it amusing.
"He came up as a left-handed hitting shortstop," Miller said. "I was like, 'Hey, I'll remember that guy.' "
The Rays gave Archer a 2-1 lead after one, but he gave it back in the fourth, allowing four straight two-out hits, including a two-run single by Justin Smoak that just got through the shift.
Maddon called it the "bad baseball luck" that often happens during a losing streak, the ball finding a hole on the right side as Escobar took an aggressive approach. "I could have made the play," Zobrist said. "But I told him after, 'You've got to go for that.' "
Centerfielder Wil Myers appeared to take a bad route on Dustin Ackley's go-ahead triple off the wall in the sixth, with the ball bouncing back behind him. But the Rays had enough chances, going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, including five strikeouts. Every starter struck out, with Maddon saying they've been chasing pitches more than usual.
"We have to move the baseball," Maddon said. "The swarm's got to come back."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.