NEW YORK — There are a number of ways to gauge the progress the Rays think they have made. But one that stood out after Monday's 6-1 loss to the Yankees was this: how disappointed they were to be heading home for tonight's Tropicana Field opener with only a 3-3 record.
"It's great that we're disappointed," manager Joe Maddon said. "Having the opportunity to go 4-2 on this trip overall would have been fantastic, and to settle for the .500 is both good and disappointing at the same time. It's part of raising our level of expectations."
After splitting their first two games, and having a third rained out, with the American League-best (how about that?) Orioles, then winning the first two against the Yankees, they were in a position to head home with their best start in franchise history but lost the last two games.
"It's good we're still .500, but we started real hot and to lose the last two is a little disappointing," Carl Crawford said. "We're just going to try to start back up another little streak."
That starts tonight at the Trop, where the soldout crowd hopefully includes an anthem singer (they didn't have one lined up as of the end of Monday's game), and where they play eight straight games, and 14 over the next 2½ weeks.
The Rays have been relatively pleased with their starting pitching thus far — Jason Hammel gave them six decent innings Monday in his first start — but their sudden lack of offense is of some concern.
They had just four hits in a 2-0 loss Sunday and only three Monday in scoring one run, which came on a home run by a guy who wasn't even in the original starting lineup, Jonny Gomes.
The Yankees have thrown some good pitching at them, with veteran Mike Mussina particularly effective Monday night with his off-speed stuff. But it could be more a matter that their bats have been chilled, especially given the game-time temperatures in the 40s (and wind chill in the upper 30s) the past two games.
Through the first six games, Crawford has a .148 average (with four singles), B.J. Upton (.227) and Akinori Iwamura (.192) have one extra-base hit each and Carlos Pena (.227) has struck out eight times.
Tropicana Field has never looked so inviting.
"This cold weather's been tough," Upton said. "It's good that it's over with for right now and we get to get back to being at home and being inside a dome where it's nice and warm."
Hammel, pitching to prove he deserves to stay in the rotation when Scott Kazmir returns at the end of the month, looked relatively comfortable, allowing four runs on eight hits and an intentional walk.
He gave up a leadoff single and a one-out homer to Bobby Abreu in the first, then got into a decent groove until the sixth, when Abreu (now 6-for-12 off him) tripled, Alex Rodriguez singled and Hideki Matsui doubled, expanding the Yankees' lead to 4-1.
"I thought he settled in and pitched really well, actually," Maddon said. "I saw better fastball command. He mixed in his off-speed pitches well, his changeup and his slider, a couple curveballs. Primarily I thought he located strikes down consistently better, which was a good sign."
Said Hammel: "Not bad for the first one."
Kinda sums up the whole week.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.