CHICAGO — The opportunity was there again. Twice actually. But the Rays can't expect to come back and win all the time, and their run of late-inning rallies ended Monday, and the biggest reason may have been because they ran themselves out of a prime opportunity.
Instead of celebrating their first game back at U.S. Cellular Field, where they were last seen popping champagne after clinching the division series, they were pondering the might-have-beens after a 4-3 loss to the White Sox.
"It was there," manager Joe Maddon said.
Jason Bartlett had the most to think about, thrown out trying to steal third with one out and two on in the eighth. He then struck out with the bases loaded for the final out in the ninth.
The loss ended their three-game streak of come-from-behind wins, and dropped them to 51-42, though they stayed 4½ games out as the Red Sox lost and dropped into a tie with the Yankees.
"I liked our intensity," Maddon said. "I like the way we're going after things right now. I can't ask for anything more from our group."
Bartlett was trying to be aggressive, as the Rays usually are, figuring getting to third put him in position to score the tying run on a fly ball, or a ground ball or if a pitch gets past the catcher. And he was running on his own, as Maddon usually allows them to, though they had two of their best hitters coming up in Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria.
Bartlett didn't come close to making it, getting a bad jump against reliever Matt Thornton and thrown out by A.J. Pierzynski, who earlier threw out Crawford after catching only four of 59 previous attempted thieves. And that made it look worse when Crawford followed with a single.
"It su--- and all, but I want to stay aggressive in that situation," Bartlett said. ""It looks dumb now that C.C. got the base hit and I would have scored easy, but that's our game and we can't switch just because of that."
Maddon said he had no problem with the idea, noting that being aggressive has been a good thing many times, though he did question the execution, suggesting that when Bartlett realized he didn't have a good jump he could have pulled up, and also that B.J. Upton, who was on first, should have broken for second.
"We just messed that up on both sides," he said.
The Rays put themselves in that position. They got a decent start by David Price, marred only by a misplaced slider that Paul Konerko turned into a three-run home run, though he beat himself up afterward saying his performance was "unacceptable."
And they got three homers of their own — over the wall by Ben Zobrist (his 18th) and Longoria (his 19th) and an inside-the-parker by Crawford, a liner off the centerfield wall that caromed across the outfield for his career third, matching the most among active big-leaguers.
Then they got another chance in the ninth.
After two quick strikeouts against closer Bobby Jenks, they loaded the bases as Pat Burrell walked, Willy Aybar singled and pinch-hitter Gabe Gross walked.
Bartlett worked the count full, and fouled off a pitch, then struck out, as Jenks ran his career shutout streak against the Rays to 12 innings over 11 games.
"He's always tough," Bartlett said. "He threw some good pitches. I might have had one pitch to hit. He threw it where he wanted and when he wanted."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.