ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays insisted Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Twins wasn't the result of an emotional letdown or hangover effect from a late night celebrating clinching their first-ever playoff berth.
Manager Joe Maddon said his team took a "business-as-usual" approach to the series finale.
But in a game players called "weird" and an atmosphere dubbed different, the Rays' play was anything but typical.
From the two errors by sure-handed third baseman Evan Longoria to their suddenly silent bats, which produced no homers for the first time in eight games, the Rays lost for just the second time this season when they had a crowd of 30,000 or more (the other came in the home opener).
The subdued sellout crowd of 36,048 wasn't the only thing that was off, as the typically fight-until-the-end club appeared flat.
"It drains your energy going through all the emotional celebrations," Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine said.
With the Rays' AL East lead cut to 1½ by the Red Sox, if they want another champagne celebration this week they'll have to flush the game out of their system by the time they start a regular-season-ending eight-game road trip today in Baltimore.
But they left town taking solace in the fact that Sunday's game wasn't the last impression they'll leave for their fans, as they'll return home for a playoff game.
"It was just a bad game," shortstop Ben Zobrist said. "We played bad. … This team has been so good at bouncing back and forgetting about it, just going on to tomorrow and the game could be completely the opposite way."
One bright spot for the Rays was Sonnanstine, who — making his sixth attempt at tying a club record with 14 victories — said he wasn't as sharp as in his past two gems against Boston. But he certainly gave Tampa Bay a chance to win with 62/3 solid innings. With Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano shutting the Rays down on five hits in seven innings, the margin for error was slim to none. And when the Rays made three defensive miscues in the fourth, it was enough to make a difference.
Akinori Iwamura and Jason Bartlett got the day off, and with Carlos Pena the designated hitter, the infield had a different look. In the fateful fourth, fill-in second baseman Willy Aybar failed to force out Joe Mauer at second on a fielder's choice. Then, with two on and two out and the score tied at 1, Longoria charged an Adam Everett grounder, but his throw sailed wide of Dan Johnson at first. Rightfielder Rocco Baldelli fielded it and made an errant throw of his own that landed in front of the Twins dugout.
"(Everett) was out if I made the throw, I just pulled it wide," said Longoria, who made another throwing error in the fifth. "Then Rocco threw it over my head, so it (was) kind of like a circus out there for a second."
Maddon said he didn't feel the team was sluggish or had lost focus, merely that it "made a couple mistakes we haven't been making."
"We could have done a lot worse than that," centerfielder B.J. Upton said. "We left a couple runners on, and Liriano, his slider was devastating today. You've got to tip your hat to him."
And turn the page today.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.