ANAHEIM, Calif. — So many times this season, the narrative after a Rays loss has been about how they came up just short.
Friday, it happened again in a 3-1 defeat to the Angels.
In the field, leftfielder Sam Fuld just missed what would have been a sensational diving catch of an Albert Pujols liner that instead led to the Angels' three runs in the third inning.
"Probably about as close as you could get without catching it,'' Fuld said. "I don't think I would have done anything differently - it just went off the tip of my glove. If I had a 13-inch glove instead of a 12 3/4 inch, I probably would have caught it. Or if I was 5 9 1/2 instead of 5-8 3/4. Either or.''
And at the plate, there were five innings where the Rays left a runner in scoring position, unable to deliver the one additional hit they needed in seven tries.
"It's the same story, we've just got to do better offensively,'' manager Joe Maddon said. "We've had opportunities, they're out there. Overall we're playing a pretty good game of baseball. We're just not hitting. And we've got to do that.''
The result was a second straight loss on their bicoastal journey — in Baltimore on Thursday and in Anaheim, Calif., on Friday — and their eighth in 14 games since the All-Star break. It left them with a 51-49 record, and 3½ games out of the second wild-card spot.
Alex Cobb started for the Rays, which was something of an accomplishment given that he was helped off the field after two innings of his last start June 21 when he was hit on the right leg by a batted ball.
That Cobb pitched seven innings was even better, the deepest he has worked in more than a month, since his eight-inning complete-game mess of a night at Kansas City on June 25. Cobb got off to a bit of a slow start, but started using his fastball more, and it seemed to work. "I think he normally is that guy,'' Maddon said. "I've seen that a lot with him, but when he gets into the flow of the game he's normally pretty good.''
Cobb allowed eight hits, done in by the four straight with two outs in the third.
He got ahead of rookie sensation Mike Trout but then singled and Torii Hunter followed with what Maddon said was "the big play,'' a bunt toward third for a hit to set up Pujols.
"Normally you don't bunt with two outs,'' Maddon said. "You just don't do that. But he knows the other guy's behind him, and that's not a bad play.''
Cobb said the Rays were surprised,
"It caught me off-guard a little bit,'' he said. "I really wasn't thinking that and then at first I saw it was bunted pretty hard and I just didn't know where my defenders were. (New third baseman Ryan) Roberts was playing a little bit deep, that's what (Hunter) saw and he put the bunt down.'' Then Pujols, who sat out Wednesday's game after being hit on the right elbow the day before, made a loud return to the lineup with a liner into the leftfield corner.
Maddon used the word "scalded'' to describe Pujols' ball, and Fuld that was an apt description. "He hits the ball pretty much differently than anybody else,'' Fuld said.
Fuld, starting ahead of Desmond Jennings, dived full out, but the ball hit off the tip of his glove and ended up a two-run double. Mark Trumbo followed with a single to left to score Pujols and give the Angels a 3-1 lead.
Maddon said he thought Fuld, who made a running grab of a foul ball earlier, was about to add to his greatest catches collection. "Just one of those incredible moments,'' he said.
Cobb said he thought Fuld had it: "I told him I was walking off the mound expecting him to catch it.''
The Rays had taken a 1-0 lead in the second on a homer by Jeff Keppinger, who had three of their six hits (lacking only a triple for the cycle). Keppinger continues to be the Rays' hottest hitter. In 30 games since coming off the disabled list on June 23, Keppinger has hit .364 (32-for-88) with 12 RBIs.
In five of the next six innings, the Rays got a runner at least to second but couldn't get any of them home. "And we hit some balls pretty good,'' Fuld said.
Fuld doubled with two outs in the third, but BJ. Upton grounded out. Keppinger singled and stole second with two outs in the fourth, but Carlos Peña struck out. Ben Zobrist doubled with two outs in the sixth, but Matt Joyce flied out. Keppinger doubled and Peña walked to open the seventh and chase Angels starter Dan Haren, but reliever Kevin Jepsen retired Ryan Roberts and Jose Lobaton on fly balls and struck out Elliot Johnson. And pinch-hitter Jennings singled in the eighth and went to second on a groundout, but Brooks Conrad, pinch-hitting for Joyce against lefty Scott Downs, popped out.
"Just offensively, the at-bats, sometimes expanding our strike zone too much,'' Maddon said. "We're getting runners, we're just not able to get that knock when we need it.''
The Rays swept the Angels when they last saw them in early April at Tropicana Field, but these are not the same Angels. After a 6-14 start, with the addition of rookie sensation Trout and a significant turnaround by Pujols, the Angels went 49-31 and are a season-high-matching 10 games over .500 at 55-45.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]