ST. PETERSBURG — The back-to-back homers by the Royals in the 10th inning punctuated the Rays' 7-4 loss in Monday's matinee.
But long before reliever Dan Wheeler missed his location on two pitches, Tampa Bay missed out on more than its fair share of opportunities to secure the sweep.
Whether it was their hitting with runners in scoring position (1-for-19) or uncharacteristic defensive lapses, the Rays took a detour from the formula that put them on pace for the biggest one-season turnaround in history.
In that sense, it was fitting that one inning after Carlos Pena delivered a tying homer in the ninth off unflappable Royals closer Joakim Soria, many of the 16,293 left the Trop before Tampa Bay's final at-bat, likely sensing it just wasn't the Rays' day.
"We are at that point where we want to win every night and we expect to," manager Joe Maddon said. "And we had a chance to today, and we did not 'cause we didn't play our regular game."
The Rays (55-33) left Monday night for New York having matched their winningest homestand of the season and having won 11 of their past 13. They still boast the best record in the majors and a four-game lead on the second-place Red Sox. But as the Rays packed their bags, a tinge of frustration was revealed on their faces, with Wheeler summing up their 6-1 home-stand — and growing expectations — the best: "7-0 is better."
To the Rays it wasn't that they lost, it was how they lost.
"We can't win them all, but it's the way you lose," Carl Crawford said. "There's a way to win and a way to lose, and today we lost in a manner we normally don't lose in, so it's kind of disappointing to us."
Consider the defense, which has been a cornerstone for the club's remarkable rise to the top of baseball. The Rays made some nice plays Monday but didn't make some routine ones that cost them runs.
In the third, Crawford, who was making his first start in centerfield in more than two years (to give B.J. Upton a day off), admitted "lackadaisical" effort on charging a two-out Ross Gload single to right-center. Mark Teahen — already running thanks to a 3-2 count — scored from first base.
"Just a bad effort on my part," Crawford said.
Then, in the 10th, rookie Evan Longoria, who is having a Gold Glove-type season, made a throwing error that allowed the go-ahead run to reach. Wheeler then intentionally walked Gload to set up a double-play situation before John Buck's homer.
"That's what happens when you miss your spots," Wheeler said.
The Rays also missed their typical timely hitting. Every starter except Cliff Floyd stranded a runner in scoring position.
The Rays squandered a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the second, and resident walkoff king Gabe Gross struck out with Longoria on second in the ninth.
"We definitely pitched well enough to win," Maddon said. "We just didn't have the timely hitting."
Rays starter Matt Garza, who had been sparkling in his past four starts (3-1, 1.55 ERA), said he "didn't have my best stuff" but tossed his fifth straight quality start, giving up three runs in 62/3 innings. But in the end, it wasn't enough.
"Today," Pena said, "Was a tough day for us."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]