CHICAGO — With a pair of homers, strong work by James Shields and a two-run lead with seven outs to go, everything was going well for the Rays on Wednesday night.
And then it wasn't.
A sequence of seventh-inning mistakes turned a good night into a bad one, a 4-3 loss to the White Sox that dropped the Rays to 52-43 and 5½ games behind the AL East-leading Yankees, who come to the Trop on Monday
"One thing after another," Shields said.
"It just kind of didn't stop," reliever Dan Wheeler said.
There were a series of culprits on the cool Chicago evening, from Shields to shortstop Jason Bartlett to centerfielder B.J. Upton and back to Wheeler. And home-plate umpire Laz Diaz might have had a hand in it, too.
Shields, who pitched extremely well otherwise — allowing four hits over 62/3 innings — made the first mistake on his 111th and last pitch, walking rookie No. 9 hitter Gordon Beckham on a full-count pitch with two outs in the seventh.
"I thought I pitched well until the last hitter," he said. "I didn't do my job late in the game, and that's not me."
Next was Bartlett, misreading a slow bouncer Scott Podsednik hit off Randy Choate, then hurrying his throw and sailing it wide of first base, advancing the runners to second and third.
"I thought it was hit harder, and I was going to stay on the bag and tag it," Bartlett said.
"Then at the last second, I saw it wasn't coming to me and I rushed it."
Adding to the oddness was an aborted relief attempt by Chad Bradford, who warmed up but left without throwing a pitch due to back stiffness and was replaced by Wheeler, who was sitting in the bullpen at the time preparing to work the eighth.
Wheeler handled it well, said he was ready at the time and actually could have kept the score where it was — 3-1 Rays on the strength of homers by Pat Burrell and Gabe Gross off Sox rookie starter Carlos Torres — but umpire Diaz didn't give him the call on what looked like a pretty good 2-and-2 pitch.
"Strike three might have been there," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
"I don't know," Wheeler said. "It looked good to me. But I'm a pitcher. You want it all."
Ramirez ripped the ensuing slider, and that's when Upton did his part.
He broke in a few steps on an Alexei Ramirez liner that was tough to read because it was hit right at him and ended up over his head, scoring two and setting up the decisive run.
Upton had some reasons: that Ramirez took an inside-out swing, he didn't believe it was well-hit; that he didn't see it well as it went by Wheeler and the umpire; that he slipped on the wet grass as he tried to reverse field.
But he really had no excuse: "It happens. There's not much you can say."
Wheeler then completed the collapse, allowing a single to Jermaine Dye.
All three games in Chicago have been tight (as they were in Kansas City), but the Rays lost two and have to face Sox All-Star Mark Buehrle in today's matinee. That makes Wednesday's handout even worse.
"We definitely had command of that game. And we made a couple mistakes, and they got us," Maddon said. "That's what it came down to."
"You've got to win the close ones," Upton said. "And we didn't do that today."