SEATTLE — Manager Joe Maddon has talked with a sense of urgency about the Rays needing to play better and with more emotion and intensity over the final two months.
Equally vital is not letting any wins get away. Friday, they failed miserably twice in what ended up a 7-6 11-inning loss to the Mariners.
The verdict came shortly before 2 this morning as Ryan Langerhans hit a two-run homer with two outs and a 2-and-2 count off closer J.P. Howell.
"It is tough to swallow, but that's what were good at, man,'' Howell said. "We swallow it and move on.''But the case was made earlier, when they built a 5-1 lead against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and took it into the seventh only to see it slip away.
"We're up 5-1 and we normally are able to put that away,'' Maddon said. "Our bullpen had been really locked down for a while and we were unable to do that. To give up a four-point lead in the seventh is not good.''
Jeff Niemann gave up a couple of hits. The bullpen failed to get a couple of outs. A couple of potential rallies didn't materialize, B.J. Upton not beating out a potential infield hit and an Evan Longoria drive falling just short of the wall.
After Longoria's throwing error in the 10th nearly led to the end, putting runners on first and third, he made a terrific play on a slow bouncer to get the Rays to the 11th. And it looked liked Jason Bartlett took it from there with a one-out homer.
But Howell allowed a leadoff walk and after a bunt and a fly ball was one strike from victory, when it all went wrong.
Langerhans was an unlikely hero, having entered the game in the seventh as a pinch-runner, with just one home run this season, and never doing the walkoff thing. "I've got to be the one slapping quite a few times but I've never been the one being slapped,'' he said.
And Howell was an unlikely victim, having posted zeroes in 26 of his last 28 appearances, and not having given up a homer to a lefty since May 27, 2008.
"Seven curveballs in a row, and he got the one that hung,'' Howell said. "I was just trying to get it outside, and it stayed and then he hit it. I saw the whole thing. And I heard the hit and when I heard it, that's when you know.''
Maddon had no issues with the effort: "J.P did a great job. We asked him to do a lot tonight getting five outs. I have no complaints. This young man has done a great job for us. We would not be in the position we're in without his work.''
The loss dropped the Rays to 60-49 and cost them a chance to move within 1½ games of the AL wild-card lead as the Red Sox lost again to the Yankees. Instead, they stay 2½ behind the Red Sox and drop to seven behind the division-leading Yankees.
"We gave up a big lead early; that wasn't good but nevertheless came back on top,'' Maddon said. "The fight in the group is spectacular. I have no issue with a game like that. It happens. It's baseball. It happens. The other team beats you sometimes.
"But I love the effort, I love the intensity of the group and it's going to work.''
Niemann gave the Rays another strong start, allowing a homer (to ex-Ray Russell Branyan, his career-high 25th) and a single in the first and nothing until the seventh, when he allowed another homer (to future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, the 623rd of his career).
But he gave up two more singles after that, and the bullpen couldn't help him out. Grant Balfour allowed a single to Rob Johnson that scored one run then hit Mike Sweeney to load the bases. Brian Shouse gave up a single to Ichiro Suzuki that scored two and tied it 5-5.
Maddon said he took out Niemann, who had thrown only 89 pitches, because "I just thought things were looked like they were getting a little bit quick for Jeff.''
Niemann said he was right: "It's just one those things. It reminds you how fast a game can turn.''
The Rays usually don't do much against Hernandez, especially at Safeco Field, where he was 2-0, 0.94 ERA in five starts against them.
But they took advantage of his early wildness and some shaky Mariners defense to take a 3-1 lead in the second; scoring three times on one hit (a Carl Crawford single), an error, two passed balls and three walks.
The built from there, and there was another encouraging swing from Pat Burrell, who hit a long, and loud, home run to left in the fifth. That made for homers in consecutive games for the first time this season.