ST. PETERSBURG — As well as things have been going, the Rays haven't really found themselves in any tough spots yet this season.
Today may be the first.
After losing a second straight tough game to the Royals on Saturday, 4-2 in 11 innings, the Rays face the uncomfortable task of having to beat AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke this afternoon to avoid heading out on a treacherous West Coast road trip with a three-game skid.
"It's very important for us to learn how to roll with the punches," Carlos Peña said. "We know that it's not always going to be a smooth ride, so we've got to just let this go. … But it doesn't get any easier because we're going to face one of the best pitchers in the game obviously."
"This is what makes a good ballclub, when you can battle though things like this," B.J. Upton said. "The good ballclub will throw the last two nights away and come back (today) ready to play."
What makes it more of a challenge is that on Saturday, like on Friday, the Rays had a chance for a different ending before giving way to ZZ Top in front of 34,813 sharp-dressed fans at the Trop.
"Pretty much Groundhog's Day in regard to the games," manager Joe Maddon said.
Friday, the Royals scored twice in the ninth, the Rays rallied and got the tying and winning runs on base but couldn't get any more.
Saturday, the Royals struck for two in the 11th off Lance Cormier, the Rays got the first two men on but couldn't get either home.
One problem, Maddon acknowledged: "Their bullpen out-bullpened us."
And the other, after noting their 1-for-11 performance with runners in scoring position: "We just haven't gotten the RBI base hits like we had earlier in the season. It's just not happening."
The beginning of the end, following a slow-starting start by David Price, more dazzling defense and four-plus innings of top-shelf relief, came after Cormier got two quick outs in the 11th.
The single to Scott Podsednik and stolen base he couldn't do much about; the walk to .194-hitting Alex Gordon, maybe so.
Maddon called it "a pretty critical moment." Cormier not so much, saying he "threw some close pitches that didn't get called" and it wasn't "a bad walk" because first base was open and he was prepared to face Jose Guillen.
But he walked Guillen, too, to load the bases then gave up a two-run double to Alberto Callaspo.
Still, the Rays looked like they'd recover as Ben Zobrist, who had three of their seven hits, and Evan Longoria singled. But Royals closer Joakim Soria rebounded to strike out Peña, Upton (after a few words with home-plate ump Jerry Crawford) and Pat Burrell.
The team that scored 71 runs over its previous eight games has logged just four (and 11 hits) over its past two. And Mr. Greinke — noted Trop hater — awaits today.
"Absolutely, we have to shake it off," Maddon said. "To think you're going to go through an entire season without having these kind of games, you're crazy. It's going to happen. It's about how high you bounce after a fall. And we'll be fine."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.