BOSTON — The Rays lost the chance to take over first place in the American League East on Tuesday and lost a little of their edge as they lost to the Red Sox 6-2.
Now the challenge is not losing any of the momentum they built during the sizzling streak that got them to this point.
"The big thing is how we're going to do (tonight)," manager Joe Maddon said. "We have David (Price) pitching and I feel good about that."
The Rays had won six straight, 18 of 20 and 21 of 25, so there was not much to be too concerned about as Roberto Hernandez had another just-okay start, the offense was held to a pair of home runs by Wil Myers and Evan Longoria and the defense showed a few cracks.
Still they are 59-42 and 1½ games out, and it was their first loss since July 12, and their first to a team besides the Astros since June 28 — at home vs. Detroit.
"We've been playing pretty darn good," Maddon said. "I'm not going to be too negative or critical at all."
Hernandez delivered a performance that wasn't horrible but wasn't good enough — and certainly not up to the level of excellence by the other starters — allowing three runs while lasting only five innings.
"Bend but not break," Maddon said. "He did not do badly at all. He kept us in the game, gave us a solid chance to win that game."
Hernandez now has 11 losses — most in the AL this side of Los Angeles' Joe Blanton — and an ERA approaching 5.00, but he hasn't done that badly. He has allowed three runs in each of his past five starts and has only one win to show for it.
And Tuesday, though he ran up his pitch count early, with 47 through two innings, that wasn't all his fault. One run scored when the Rays didn't properly defend a double steal and the other after a wild pitch, which just as well could have been a passed ball, moved a runner up to score on a sac fly.
"I tried to keep my team close, I tried to win and you see what happened," Hernandez said. "I can't control that, all I can control is the pitch."
Catcher Jose Molina said Hernandez deserved better, again.
"I think that's called bad luck, right?" Molina said. "It's a shame we can't perform the way we know we're capable of when he's pitching. It's pretty much wasting an outing for a pitcher, that's the way I feel."
At some point when Alex Cobb — whose Tuesday rehab start was cut short due to a blister — is ready, the Rays will have to decide between keeping Hernandez or rookie Chris Archer in the rotation, and Hernandez could be headed to the bullpen.
The Rays have lost 10 of 14 against the Sox — their first season series loss since 2007 — and their bigger problem has been a lack of offense, especially at Fenway, where in six losses they have seven runs and batted .171, including 2-for-36 with runners in scoring position.
Maddon said the Sox have game-planned well against the Rays hitters and executed: "We've got to do a better job against them offensively."
The quietness in the clubhouse stood out given how loud it has been lately, but Molina had the simplest solution.
"We just have to start a new streak and keep going," he said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]