ST. PETERSBURG — Monte Kiffin does better with the Bucs.
After an inspiring pregame speech from Tampa Bay's football defensive guru, the Rays trailed by a touchdown early, played sloppily in the field and gave up season-high numbers on the scoreboard.
As if the 12-6 loss to Texas weren't bad enough, former Rays prospect Josh Hamilton delivered the game-sealing blow, an eighth-inning grand slam.
To make it worse, the crowd of 10,511 was the lowest of the season at Tropicana Field.
"We had a bad night," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
The Rays went in with the best record in the majors at 31-20 but certainly didn't play like it, allowing seven of the first 14 Rangers to score and 16 hits overall.
Andy Sonnanstine had another rough start, allowing 10 hits and seven runs (though only two earned) over five innings, but both he and Maddon insisted it was nothing more than a matter of location.
"He's not been hitting the glove over the last two starts," Maddon said. "Physically he's fine, his stuff is fine, he's just missing his spots."
Sonnanstine's night might not have been nearly as long, or as short, but a rare error by third baseman Evan Longoria, on a sharp grounder by Hamilton, extended the second inning as the Rangers scored five and opened a 7-0 lead.
"We made a mistake that led to several runs, which we had not been doing," Maddon said.
They'd actually gone eight games without an error, two shy of the team record, and had made four in a 31-game span, the tidiest such stretch by any major-league team since the 1998 Orioles.
That was the only official error, but it was a rough night overall, with balls bouncing, skipping and rolling the wrong way. Longoria twice watched balls roll slowly up the third-base line and stay fair by the slimmest of margins.
"It was a tough day to play third base," Longoria said.
As poorly as the Rays started, they had their chances after two-run homers by Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske (tying Carlos Pena for the team lead with 10). They got the tying run to the plate three times in the sixth and seventh but got no closer than 7-5.
Then Hamilton, who was 0-for-4 Monday in his much-anticipated Tropicana Field debut, put it out of reach with a blast off reliever J.P. Howell and ran his major-league-leading RBI total to 58.
"It was great," Hamilton said. "Things had been frustrating here because I had a little trouble seeing. I saw the ball leave his hand, it looked like a sinker in, I closed my eyes and swung the bat. When I looked up, there it went."
Monday, Maddon said he was curious to see Hamilton play. Tuesday, he saw enough. "I didn't want to see it that much," he said. "I could have just heard about it — that's okay."
As well as the Rays have played, and as impressively as they've bounced back from tough losses, Maddon was more impressed with the fight they showed than concerned about the loss.
And, of course, Kiffin wasn't really to blame.
"Monte was great, regardless," Maddon said. "It wasn't his fault. He's welcome back anytime."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.