ST. PETERSBURG — After skidding into the All-Star break losing 22 of 25 games, the Rays talked a lot over the previous few days about starting fresh, how getting better starting pitching, overall improved play and some key guys back from the disabled list would make a significant difference.
And for a while Friday night, it looked like they knew what they were talking about. Chris Archer gave them a solid start, the hitters cobbled an early lead and the Kevin Kiermaier-inspired defense was crisp.
But then anything new seemed old again.
A costly mistake pitch, a key play that didn't get made, wasted opportunities to score more runs, and a couple of debatable decisions by manager Kevin Cash all added up to another loss, this one 4-3 to the Orioles.
"Yea, there's some positives," said Archer after his majors-leading 13th loss. "But we lost the game. That's the main focus right now. We talked (Thursday) about coming out and getting a win, and we weren't able to do that."
You could posit the Rays earned their 55th loss at several junctures.
Most obviously, in the eighth, when the Orioles went ahead.
Archer had done well, escaping the first inning (where he had had a 9.95 ERA) unscathed and completing seven innings for just the third time in 20 starts, and at 102 pitches, with the score tied at 3.
Cash had a fresh bullpen, obviously, but said he felt Archer was "the best option" to face righty swingers Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado, then would go to lefty Xavier Cedeno for Chris Davis.
But Archer made a mistake on his second pitch with a sloppy slider, and Schop launched it into the leftfield seats. "I didn't execute a pitch," Archer said. "I left a cookie out there for a guy with a lot of power, and he made the most of it."
Or in the sixth, when the Rays lost the lead they had held since the first.
The Orioles had runners on the corners with one out for slow-footed catcher Matt Wieters, a lefty hitter. Archer got the ground ball he wanted, but shortstop Brad Miller was shifted toward the middle and had to go back to his right, and he and second baseman Logan Forsythe couldn't turn the double play. "I thought everybody did everything they could have done," Cash said.
Or in the first three innings, when the Rays posted a single run each time but left seven men on and could have knocked out O's starter Yovani Gallardo in building a bigger lead.
There was also some drama — and debate — in the ninth.
After Miller doubled with one out and moved to third on a wild pitch, O's manager Buck Showalter made the bold move of walking Evan Longoria, the winning run, so power-throwing lefty closer Zach Britton could face lefty Logan Morrison.
Cash had two right-handed hitters on the bench in Tim Beckham and Nick Franklin but stuck with Morrison, who fouled off an on-his-own bunt attempt and then struck out. "Confidence in LoMo there to come through," Cash said. Steven Souza Jr. then struck out to end it.
Before the game, baseball operations president Matt Silverman made a reasoned pitch for why things could be better.
"There's a lot of talent on this club, there's a lot of grit on this club and there's still confidence," he said. "Those are the ingredients that we need to have a successful second half. Put the first half behind us — it is what it is — and we need to forge a new path going forward."
For a while Friday, it at least sounded good.