ST. PETERSBURG — Sunday couldn't have begun much better for the Rays, as Angels ace Jered Weaver, the major-league wins leader, couldn't start due to a nasty stomach virus, and they battered his replacement, Tyler Chatwood, for five first-inning runs.
But the day didn't end well, their heads down lamenting a 6-5 loss they acknowledged never should have happened.
"It was a tough one to lose today," second baseman Ben Zobrist said. "We felt like we should have won that game. Happens sometimes. It's really probably the first game this year where we felt like we should have run away with that, and we didn't."
Their downfall was multifaceted, the combination of one pivotal play they failed to make and another they couldn't, ineffective relief pitching and some rookie mistakes by starter Alex Cobb who, among other things, was blatantly tipping some of his pitches.
"Just a tough loss for us," DH Johnny Damon said.
The Rays (15-13) welcomed today's off day as a chance to rest and regroup after a rugged stretch of five games in 76 hours, and to restock, with All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria and a fresh bullpen arm (Brandon Gomes?) expected to be added by Tuesday's game against Toronto.
But there will also be some time to reflect on how Sunday's game, played before 16,248 at Tropicana Field, got away.
"We've got to do a better job of keeping the lead," manager Joe Maddon said.
A messy fifth inning was a big part. Cobb, summoned from Triple A for the day, had managed to keep the Angels to one run to that point. But when, after an out, he walked two straight (including the hard-to-walk Erick Aybar, so he may well have known what was coming) then allowed an RBI single, Maddon turned to long reliever Andy Sonnanstine.
But Sonnanstine, who had been considered for the start, didn't help, walking Howie Kendrick to load the bases then allowing a sac fly that made it 5-3 with runners on first and third. Sonnanstine had pitched only one inning in the past 21 days, but it's hard to say if rust was an issue since he left before the clubhouse opened to the media. "The walk hurt us." Maddon said.
The next sequence made it worse, as Kendrick broke for second and John Jaso's throw skipped by shortstop Reid Brignac, not only allowing a run to score but extending the inning for Alberto Callaspo to single in the tying run.
Jaso was charged with an error, but Maddon laid the blame on Brignac, whose .212 average is also becoming a problem. "We should have caught the ball," Maddon said. "That was actually a very big moment right there."
There was a bigger one three innings later, with Angels on first and third, and this time the Rays insisted there wasn't much they could do about it — a grounder by catcher Hank Conger hit too slowly for Zobrist to turn a double play, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
Zobrist said he wouldn't have had time to turn to throw to second, and when Vernon Wells, who was on first, made the crafty veteran move of stopping in the basepath, Zobrist lost his only chance for a double play to keep the run from scoring, though they did get both outs after the force was off.
"We had one chance, and that was for the runner to run into the out," Maddon said. "The moment he stopped, the double play was gone."
And so, too, was the chance for the day to end well.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org