ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon had plenty to be disappointed about in Thursday's ugly 8-2 loss to Texas that dropped his Rays back into a tie for the American League wild-card spots with 10 games left in the season.
Matt Moore didn't pitch well, allowing three homers — in a four-batter span — and lasting only four innings. The offense again failed to convert multiple opportunities. And the defense was far short of sharp.
But in discussing one of those misplays — a ground ball to shortstop on which the Rangers scored two runs — Maddon segued into what has been an ongoing issue in the Rays' supposed push to make the playoffs and could prove to be a fatal flaw: too many mental mistakes.
"You have to be aware. Aware, aware, aware. Constantly," Maddon said, "There's no taking naps in these games, man. This stuff is for real. We are playing quality opponents. Absolutely, we are playing quality opponents. It's on us to be ready mentally to play these games. And these little mental faux paus cannot be part of it."
As frustrating, Maddon — who rarely criticizes his players — doesn't know why. Especially on Thursday, when he expected them to play with verve and momentum from Wednesday's thrilling extra-inning win.
"I don't know," Maddon said. "I don't know. You look up and we've got 83 wins and we're tied for the wild-card thing, and I don't know. It's not easy to get to this particular juncture and then you get there and it's hard to understand where we would kind of throw out a bad game tonight after the last game. I'm kind of surprised."
The loss was doubly damaging for the Rays, played before another small Tropicana Field crowd of 13,550, giving them a total for the four-game series of 49,887.
Short-term, it dropped them to 83-69 and back into a tie with the Rangers for the two wild-card spots, and just a half-game ahead of the Indians, who scored a walkoff win as they finish their season playing the Astros, White Sox and Twins. The Rays are two ahead of the Orioles, who open a four-game series at the Trop tonight, three ahead of the Royals and 3½ ahead of the Yankees.
Long-term, the Rays lost the season series to the Rangers 4-3, which means if they finish tied for the two wild-card spots, or for the second spot, the playoff game would be in Texas. (On the other hand, the Rays are 3-1 in playoff games there.)
The play Maddon was talking about took place in the fourth, the Rays down 4-2 after the homer barrage. The Rangers had men on second and third after an infield single, a walk and three steals.
Elvis Andrus hit a nearly routine grounder that shortstop Yunel Escobar stayed back on and then made a low throw to first that James Loney gloved, but which Andrus beat. Not only did Craig Gentry score from third, but Ian Kinsler made the heads-up play of racing home.
Loney didn't come off the base as aggressively to try to make the play at the plate as he probably should have, saying there wasn't anything he could do. "It was just too late, once I caught it and turned," he said.
Regardless, Maddon said there was a breakdown: "That's a big play right there that should not have happened."
Maddon put more of the remaining blame on the offense, suggesting they needed to take better advantage of an off-night by Rangers ace Yu Darvish, who walked six in five innings.
But Moore said he was more at fault, especially after allowing the three homers in a 15-pitch sequence in the third.
"There's someone responsible for the damage, and I'm that person," Moore said. "Going into today I had a chance to keep us atop the leaderboard as far as the wild card goes, didn't happen. It's frustrating tonight, but we'll be back at 'em tomorrow."
For nine more days, anyway, they can talk about tomorrow.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.