ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Joe Maddon was attempting as much damage control as he could after Saturday's latest debacle, another stunning, it-can't-be-happening-again 4-3 11-inning loss to the Yankees.
Maddon insisted that closer Fernando Rodney, who blew another ninth-inning lead, really wasn't that far off his game, that they hadn't lost any confidence in him and that, yes, Rodney was going to remain in the closer's role.
Also, that the Yankees had some good fortune. The Rays had a prime chance to win in the 10th with the bases loaded and one out. And it was a solo homer by Lyle Overbay off Josh Lueke that actually decided the game.
But there is no question the repeated late-inning losses — this the third when they were a strike away from victory — have done some damage.
"It's heartbreaking, frustrating, the same stuff," outfielder Matt Joyce said in the funereal and mostly empty clubhouse, with Rodney among the missing. "There's not much you can do. You score some runs, you go out there with the lead, you just have to find a way to close the door, and obviously we haven't. …
"I'm sure everybody is frustrated, and doubt tends to creep in. So for us, we've got to find the confidence."
As obvious as the tangible impact has been — the Rays back to .500 at 24-24, despite a likely unsustainable five-week run as the majors' best offense, and six games back in the American League East — the intangible could be worse.
Maddon admits that blown ninth-inning leads are the cruelest blows for a team — and the one thing they never expected to be the issue for this team.
"It's really almost incredible to think that is our problem right now," Maddon said. "Because that would be the one thing that I thought would have been our strong point at the beginning of the season."
Maddon brushed off any talk of taking Rodney, who has blown five of 14 save chances (after only two last year) and has walked a staggering 18 in 19⅓ innings (only 15 last year), out of the closer's role and going by committee, saying they are set up to do things a certain way and have to maintain belief in the process and the people.
"I'm not going to run away from guys when they are struggling a little bit and I don't think he's struggling a lot,'' Maddon said. "It's a little bit.''
Whether Rodney has lost confidence is a question that will have to wait for another day as he — uncharacteristically — left without talking to reporters.
Not that he may have had much to say given how the game got away.
Handed a 3-1 lead after a solid six-inning start by Matt Moore, Rodney quickly got two outs and had most of the Trop crowd of 25,874 on its feet with a 3-and-2 count on Overbay.
But he walked Overbay and got upset at a balk call, probably more upset than he should have been since the Rays were indifferent to the runner. He then gave up an opposite-field double to just called up Brennan Boesch and a single to center to Brett Gardner. With a late throw home by Desmond Jennings, the lead, once again, was gone.
"Two outs, nobody on, you've got a walk, a check swing, a blooper — and everybody's sad," Maddon said. "I mean it's just really unbelievable."
Actually, the way it has been going, not so much.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]om.