BALTIMORE — After his team lost another game 4-2 Tuesday and didn't look good in doing so, manager Joe Maddon insisted there was not much difference between his fourth-place, under-.500 Rays and the American League East-leading Orioles.
"They're so much ahead of us but you can see how close the two teams actually are in regard to ability and talent and everything else," Maddon said. "At this particular moment the teams are pretty evenly matched."
But as if the 12 games between them in standings don't provide enough telling opposition, the play in the first two games of what had looked to be an important series certainly did.
"I felt facing this Orioles team and seeing the way things are going for them almost the way I felt when I was facing the Red Sox last year,'' Rays starter Alex Cobb said. "The quality of at-bats one through nine and making situations into their favor and not sitting back and letting things happen. They're going out and making things happen, they're not waiting for it to happen.
"You can look at it both ways. Maybe we aren't on the top of our game right now but they're definitely the aggressors right now in making things happen.
"There might be a little bit of a gap right there. And there is a gap in the standings also.''
Consider on Tuesday, as the Rays dropped to 64-68, just how they did themselves in.
On the bases, where they had three runners thrown out at the plate, including Desmond Jennings in the first inning, as the back end of a third-to-first-to-home double play, which also stood up after a replay challenge.
In the field, where two of several misplays factored heavily into the outcome.
In the fourth, with two on and two out, Jennings got a bad break on a sinking liner by Caleb Joseph and attempted — and failed — on an awkward sliding, diving, falling-down catch that was ugly by any description, putting the Orioles up 2-1.
"He didn't catch it," Maddon said. "Could he have caught it? It looked like he may have been able to catch it. I couldn't tell."
Then in the sixth, when they failed to turn an inning-ending double play, the Orioles followed with two singles and the go-ahead run off Grant Balfour. The throw from shortstop Yunel Escobar appeared wide of first, but Maddon laid the blame on Balfour, saying he broke late off the mound.
"You can talk about this and that and what ensued,'' Maddon said, "but if he covers first the inning is over and none of that other stuff happens.''
At the plate, where the Rays went 2-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left nine on. Most painfully in the sixth, with the scored tied 2-2, when they had the bases loaded with one out and got nothing. Jennings hit a slow roller to third for a force out at the plate, then Ben Zobrist flied out.
"It's the same refrain, the inability to score runs with runners in scoring position," Maddon said.
And on the mound.
Cobb, who wasn't feeling well, battled but Maddon pulled him after just four innings, deciding 92 pitches (including 33 in the fourth) and three walks was enough on a hot night. Cobb acknowledged that he needed to be sharper, but allowed he was "a little surprised" to be pulled then.
Overall, Maddon said, "it's been really awkward and we don't have much time to make it better. But we've still got to try to make it better.''
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.