ST. PETERSBURG — He loved the fight. Of course he did. And the effort, the attitude, the heart his Rays showed in battling back Tuesday before eventually losing 6-5 to the Pirates.
But for manager Joe Maddon, looking up from the bottom of the standings at 31-48 in a season that has just about gotten away by the end of June, close is no longer good enough.
"The moral victories are really not what we're looking for right now," he said. "We're looking for actual victories."
So though there was something to be made of the two runs they scored in the eighth (on Evan Longoria's 10th home run), and the two more they got in the ninth (on Brandon Guyer's two-out single) before Longoria popped out to end it, the bigger issue was the predicament they once again were in, down early and unable to catch up.
In 43 games when the other team scores first, the Rays have won nine. And in 43 games when trailing after six innings, they have won only four.
"I love the idea that we played till the ninth inning, I love the idea that the winning run came to the plate, I love all of that. It's wonderful and it really speaks to the fortitude of our guys. We just have to be more offensive early," Maddon said.
"There was a lot of good stuff to draw from tonight, but you've got to draw the victory somewhere. We can't continually lose this type of game, which we have."
Chris Archer played a part in that, too. Not nearly as sharp as he had been in posting a majors-best 0.89 ERA over seven starts since mid May, Archer made a few costly mistakes over his seven-inning outing.
Most prominent were a pair of lead-off walks, one to start the game that led to the Pirates — showcasing the speed and aggressiveness the Rays once had — taking a 1-0 lead without a hit, then another that sparked a three-run third that ran the lead to 4-0.
"We lost, we got an 'L,' but we played hard," Archer said. "I don't know if there was much more we could do other than me not walking two leadoff hitters. That ultimately was the difference in the game."
Actually not, in that the Pirates added on two more, both with two outs.
Archer allowed a double and a single, reliever Brad Boxberger a homer. And while Maddon said they were "significant moments that will get overlooked," the bigger issue — once again — was their lack of offense, including two more double plays.
Until the eighth, the biggest of their first six hits was catcher Jose Molina lacing a ball down the third-base line in the fifth for his second RBI of the season and first extra-base hit since September.
In the clubhouse, several players said there was some solace in the comeback.
"I think we've got to think about things positively," said infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist, 1-for-his-last-40 with runners in scoring position. "You can't get too down on yourself. It was a good comeback right there, and we were one hit away from winning that game. After getting down 6-1, that's saying something. There's definitely no quit in our team. We're going to keep battling. We're not giving in to anything."
Except, eventually, the calendar.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.