ST. PETERSBURG — Carl Crawford talked before the game about how the Rays' rotation had carried them to the majors' best record.
"When they go," he said, "we go."
But on Friday night, right-hander Wade Davis could have used a little more help from the Rays' bats. Davis gave up just three runs over six innings, but Tampa Bay fell 4-3 to the Mariners in front of 27,856 at Tropicana Field.
"(Davis) gave us a chance to win. We just couldn't get enough runs for him," said Carlos Peña, who went 0-for-4. "It was another great performance by one of our pitchers, but we just couldn't come out on top for him."
Though several key Rays have struggled offensively, they have found a way to win due to timely hitting (entering Friday with a majors-best .310 average with runners in scoring position). Those clutch hits, however, mostly didn't occur Friday night.
The Rays (24-11) got a two-run homer by Evan Longoria in the eighth to pull within a run, but that was it.
"We need to start scoring a few runs," manager Joe Maddon said. "The work is there. The guys care. It's just not happening right yet. I have a lot of confidence in all of them."
Davis, who didn't face an opponent's opening day starter for the first time in seven outings, kept the Rays in the game. He labored in the first two innings but minimized the damage in giving up just a two-run homer to Franklin Gutierrez. He retired nine of the next 10 hitters until Adam Moore's homer to start the fifth and scattered five hits while throwing a season-high 111 pitches.
"He found his curveball about the third or fourth inning," Maddon said. "And he started to pitch a whole lot better."
The Mariners' Doug Fister, however, was better. The Rays drove his pitch count up, forcing him to finish after five, but the 6-foot-8 righty stifled them by varying his looks and changing speeds. The Rays' only run off of him came in the third on heads-up baserunning by Reid Brignac. Brignac doubled down the leftfield line. And when the throw from leftfielder Michael Saunders bounced off second baseman Chone Figgins, he raced to third. He scored on a balk.
"I love the effort," Maddon said. "We got beat. But if we play like that on a nightly basis, I'll take it."
But the Rays will need more production out of their 5-6-7 hitters (Peña, B.J. Upton and Pat Burrell), who combined to go 0-for-12 with four strikeouts Friday and are slumping at the same time. Maddon said Willy Aybar will start today for Burrell at DH and might move up in the order. For Upton and Peña, Maddon said they're expanding their strike zone. Peña (.176) has two hits in his past 46 at-bats and has gone 12 games without an RBI.
"Whatever is going on is not my identity," Peña said. "I've had some good-at bats here and there and not a lot of success, obviously. It's what can I do for my team today that matters."
The Mariners added another run in the eighth on a solo homer by Mike Sweeney, snapping Dan Wheeler's string of eight scoreless appearances. That run became huge after Longoria's homer made it 4-3.
"I know we're going to give up runs. It just kind of stinks when you give up a run and Longo comes up and hits a two-run homer that would have tied the game," Wheeler said. "It's just a tough one. I fell behind, put him in a hitter's count, and usually nothing good happens."