ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Joe Maddon doesn't address his team in a group setting very often.
But after breaking the news to players Wednesday night that longtime senior adviser Don Zimmer had died, Maddon introduced a new short-term goal he hopes brings new life to a seemingly lost season.
Get to 50-50. And see what happens.
"I would say it was his way of saying, 'Hey, this is not over,' " second baseman/rightfielder Ben Zobrist said.
With the Rays losing 7-4 to the Mariners on Saturday in front of 23,996 at Tropicana Field, they fell to 24-39, the worst record in the majors. So they'd have to go 26-11 to complete the feat.
"We've done that standing on our heads in the past," Maddon said.
The point is, instead of thinking of the daunting — if not impossible — big-picture task of making the playoffs, starter Alex Cobb says this goal shortens the season and brings the focus to every game.
"It's definitely doable for this club," Zobrist said. "We haven't played anywhere near what we believe we're capable of. That belief is there. It's going to happen at some point. We just hope when it happens, it's not too late."
Maddon felt really good entering Saturday's game, with the Rays having snapped a 10-game losing streak Friday night and Cobb heading to the mound. Plus, they had an emotional pregame ceremony celebrating Zimmer's life.
But Cobb struggled in the worst of his four starts since coming back from the disabled list. He was charged with seven runs on 10 hits over a season-low 41/3 innings. Cobb said he's still working his way back after missing six weeks with an oblique strain, not yet finding consistency with his pitches.
"I just wasn't hitting my spots very well," Cobb said. "And when I was throwing offspeed, it was more often flat than not."
The Rays trailed just 3-2 heading into the fifth, when the Mariners scored four and chased Cobb. The big blow was a three-run double by Dustin Ackley on a hanging 0-and-2 curveball.
"That's a pitch that's going to haunt me for a little while," Cobb said.
The inconsistent Rays' offense mustered just three hits over the first seven innings against Mariners lefty Roenis Elias before a too-little, too-late two-run homer by Evan Longoria in the eighth.
"Elias threw a tremendous game," Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said.
But even as ex-Rays closer Fernando Rodney shut Tampa Bay down with a 1-2-3 ninth, drawing boos after shooting his imaginary post-save arrow, Maddon kept the focus simple: win the series, which ends Monday.
Maddon said the emotion has been "staggering," from the loss of games and the loss of the beloved Zimmer. But regardless, he believes the Rays need to get back to playing their quality of baseball and it would be "totally not out of the reach or realm of possibility" to make it to 50-50.
"I see this as a tremendous opportunity to do something unique in the game of baseball," Maddon said.
Said Cobb: "When you try to look at the whole picture, it almost looks like an impossible feat to have to do. But if you put yourself in a situation where you're at the All-Star Game and have gone 50-50, you have a fighting chance."