ST. PETERSBURG — The "Pit," as manager Joe Maddon affectionately calls Tropicana Field, has been the pits.
On a day in which Maddon tried yet another lineup shuffle and the Rays got another quality start out of a pitcher, their bats were cooled again in another home loss, 4-2 Friday to the White Sox in front of 20,650.
The Rays (33-16), who still boast the majors' best record (and a 31/2 game lead in the AL East), say they are not panicking over their struggling offense, nor the fact that they have lost four of their past five games.
But what remains puzzling is, considering they boasted one of baseball's best home records the previous two years at 109-53, they are 14-11 there compared with 19-5 on the road this season.
"We're not used to not playing better in this ballpark," Maddon said. "This is what we've been able to do the last couple years, is play well here and really build up some good numbers here. We've actually been Trop-esque on the road, and here we're not."
Said first baseman Carlos Peña: "That's kind of weird. It's one of those things that baffles us."
The Rays have no good answers for it, but the fact they've scored three runs or fewer in 10 of their past 13 home games has played a role. They're hitting .185 on the current homestand, including .103 with runners in scoring position.
That didn't leave much margin for error for left-hander David Price. He was better than his last outing but still wasn't at his best, giving up just three runs over seven innings. Price (7-2) also walked four and hit a batter.
"It's just fastball command," Price said. "I've got to get back to that. I kind of lost that the last however many starts, and it's hurt me."
The home run hurt Price on Friday with Alex Rios hitting a two-run shot in the fourth and Ramon Castro a solo shot in the fifth. The new-look Rays lineup, with Jason Bartlett batting ninth and Ben Zobrist leading off, didn't pack enough punch against starter Freddy Garcia, whom Maddon said was "masterful" with his changeup.
There was a good sign in B.J. Upton hitting a triple in the third (and scoring) in his first game back since Maddon sat him on consecutive nights to clear his head and snap out of a slump.
Evan Longoria came inches from tying the score in the sixth, ripping a fly ball that bounced off the top of the leftfield wall. The two-out double scored Zobrist, cutting the lead to 3-2. But Peña ended the threat by grounding out to second.
The White Sox (21-27) added an insurance run in the ninth thanks to two passed balls by rookie catcher John Jaso on back-to-back fastballs by Grant Balfour.
"I have to take it upon myself to catch those balls," Jaso said. "I'm not going to say it's the easiest thing to do, but I can do it. Next time, my glove will be there."
But what's already there for the Rays is perspective, what they call a rough stretch in a long season.
"It's very important not to hang our heads too low," Peña said. "The year we went to the World Series (in 2008), I remember losing seven in a row. We were able to overcome that. We just have to try to keep a healthy perspective. It's very easy to just get on a tornado and swirl all the way down to the bottom instead of staying fresh and light with all of this."