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Tampa Bay Rays fall to Chicago White Sox 3-1 as playoff hopes grow dim

CHICAGO — The Rays' eight-game winning streak came to an end Friday with a 3-1 loss to the White Sox. By tonight, their hopes for another dramatic dash into the playoffs could be just about over as well.

Whatever margin the Rays may have had would seem just about gone, and the sense in their subdued-but-not-silent clubhouse was that they need to win their remaining five games to have a chance.

"We've got to win them all at this point," third baseman Evan Longoria said.

Unlike Thursday, when everything broke the Rays' way, Friday went the other way. Not only did the Rays lose the game and the tenuous hold they had on their own destiny, but all three of the teams they are chasing won: the Orioles blasting Toronto, the Angels winning at Texas and the A's taking a late game against Seattle.

That meant the Rays dropped four back of wild-card-leading Baltimore, of particular significance because they play their final three games at home against the Orioles and had been counting on the opportunity to win their way back into the playoffs. They also fell a game behind the Angels and three behind the A's, who hold the second wild card.

"I thought we had one mulligan left," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And there it was."

"That's it," centerfielder B.J. Upton said. "We have to win this series and then see what happens when we get home."

To try to do so, the Rays (86-71) are sending out struggling rookie left-hander Matt Moore, whose past five starts have produced no wins and a 6.14 ERA. He faces the Sox's Cy Young candidate Chris Sale, the Lakeland-born left-hander who struck out 15 in a May 28 game at the Trop but hasn't been as sharp of late.

Despite the loss, the Rays say they still will have their same approach and attitude, and they still have hope.

"It was an upsetting loss, but the vibe in here is good," Upton said.

"We just have to keep playing loose," Longoria said, "and not like we're under pressure."

Friday's loss was particularly frustrating because of how it happened.

Despite getting five walks in the first five innings by Sox starter Gavin Floyd, and six overall, the Rays managed just the one run, on Ben Zobrist's first-inning homer, and three hits total. They had two on with less than two outs twice and couldn't convert, stranding eight runners total and going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.

"We had opportunities and just weren't able to get it done," Maddon said, as he has said so many other times this season.

After Zobrist homered in the first to give them a 1-0 lead, they got men on base in six of the next seven innings and didn't get any of them home. Their best chance came after starting the second with a single and a walk, but Carlos Peña struck out, Matt Joyce lined out and catcher Jose Lobaton, making his third consecutive start in Jose Molina's absence, struck out.

"We just didn't get those timely hits," said Upton, who was 0-for-4 and is 1-for-17 on the road trip.

Jeremy Hellickson didn't pitch badly for the Rays, though his own errant pickoff throw — "over-boogied," Maddon said — in the third inning led to the first Chicago run. He allowed a homer to Alex Rios in the fourth, then a leadoff double to Rios in the sixth.

Maddon said he felt strongly that Hellickson, in his first start against the Sox, had pitched well enough to win, allowing the three runs (two earned) on nine hits over 5⅔, walking one and striking out two.

"Not good enough," Hellickson said.

With another loss, that may become a more common phrase.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay Rays fall to Chicago White Sox 3-1 as playoff hopes grow dim 09/28/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 29, 2012 1:16am]

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