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Rays rally to tie, then lose, in ninth as Red Sox sweep

BOSTON — The ending was unhappy again for the Rays on Monday, their heads hung following another frustrating walk off the field after a 3-2 loss to the Red Sox decided on the final pitch.

But the bigger problem remains what they have done — or, more accurately, not done — to put themselves in this uncomfortable position: matching the worst 12-game start in franchise history at 4-8 and remaining woefully ineffective at generating any kind of sustained offense.

The Rays hit their first home run in a week Monday, and they got their first hit with a runner in scoring position in days. But they came up short again, managing only four hits total — dropping their team average to an American League-low .205 — and scoring only twice, making for an average of a paltry, if not pathetic, 2.9 runs a game.

So what is it going to take?

One general sentiment inside the clubhouse — which may not match that of the outside world's — is that they have been trying too hard and need to relax.

"Nobody's not trying enough," manager Joe Maddon said. "I would prefer they try easier."

Another theory — perhaps equally unpopular — is that they have to stick with their approach, and once they have one big game, they will start rolling.

"We haven't really clicked offensively yet," said Evan Longoria, whose homer was also his first of the season. "It's going to take one of those days, I think, to kind of get us going. It's not really going to be one moment; it's not going to be a home run from me or anybody else.

"We're going to have to string together hits. I continue to talk about that. We're not going to win off of three-run home runs. We're going to have to find a way to put together hits and put together big innings.

"I don't know what it's going to take. We'll just sit down together as a group and continue to grind it out with (hitting coach Derek Shelton) and all the information that we have and figure out a way."

They had a chance in Monday's Boston Marathon day matinee after getting a strong start from Jeremy Hellickson, who allowed one run after a leadoff triple in the first and another on a Jarrod Saltalamacchia homer in the fifth. But the Rays failed once again when it mattered most.

They tied it at 1 in the fourth on Longoria's homer — the team's first over six-plus games, 219 at-bats and, to be more specific, eight days, 15 hours and 23 minutes — then rallied to tie again in the ninth.

Desmond Jennings, who has hit the ball the hardest with little to show for it, led off with a single and stole second. Ben Zobrist laced a liner to left that dropped in to score Jennings — snapping the Rays' team 0-for-24 with runners in scoring position — and advanced to second on the throw.

That left the Rays in prime position to take the lead: a man on second, no outs and their Nos. 3-4-5 hitters up (although that No. 5 hitter was Ryan Roberts).

But Longoria — who uncharacteristically had flung his helmet after being called out at first on what looked like a bad call earlier, denying the Rays a run — was on the wrong end of what he thought was a checked swing. Matt Joyce then took a called third strike, and Roberts popped out.

"You really like the moment, and it went away," Maddon said. "Punch-out, punch-out, pop-up. It was illustrative of what is going on. We're going to be better at that. It's a baseball funk you go through at different points. We happen to be going through it right now. It's frustrating at times, but I do have a lot of confidence our guys will work through it."

The end came quickly from there. Joel Peralta walked Dustin Pedroia on a pitch he thought was strike three, then after a slight delay after catcher Jose Molina's mask was broken by a foul ball, Mike Napoli hit a smash off the Green Monster.

Joyce had a chance but didn't handle the ball well or make a good throw, and Pedroia raced home.

"Things will turn around for us," Joyce said. "They definitely will. We're too good of a team to not win and to not put up numbers and score runs. Honestly, it's really just a matter of time before we put up some runs and people relax and go, 'Okay, here we go, we know we can do it,' and things start to flow."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

Rays rally to tie, then lose, in ninth as Red Sox sweep 04/15/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 15, 2013 10:28pm]

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