BALTIMORE — Rays manager Joe Maddon spoke glowingly before the game about the upstart Orioles, praising them for — his words — their attitude, tenacity, unwillingness to be denied.
And while the Orioles showed all of that in the opening game of an unexpectedly critical series, the Rays didn't show any in losing 9-2.
"We just did not play well at all," Maddon said. "We just had a bad day."
As pivotal as the six-game road trip to Baltimore and New York is for their postseason hopes, as much as the players, Ryan Roberts said, acknowledged, "it's the playoffs right now," the Rays came out looking flat, and stayed that way.
They managed only one hit through the first five innings and five total, despite O's starter Jason Hammel leaving in the fourth with a knee injury. Rookie lefty Matt Moore wasn't sharp and pitched his way out of the game after just four innings — and 94 pitches. And rightfielder Matt Joyce made a costly first-inning error on a somewhat routine sequence to put them in an early hole, and a funk, they never escaped.
"Definitely," Maddon said. "We played like that the rest of the night."
Adding to their woes, Roberts left the game shortly after bending his wrist awkwardly on a play at second in the sixth inning, resulting in a left forearm strain that, with the X-rays negative, he hopes won't keep him out long.
The loss — their first by more than two runs in more than a month — dropped the Rays to 77-64 and two games behind the Orioles, who tied the Yankees for the American League East lead, as well as the second wild-card spot.
Given how well the Rays played last week, taking two of three from the Yankees and Rangers, and with a day off before facing the O's, such an uninspired effort would seem a bit surprising — and disappointing.
"Either that, or it's understandable, one of the two," Maddon said. "The fact that you played with such intensity the last week at home, a lot of high-pressure games, did really well, take a day off, come up here — maybe you lose a little bit of that edge. …
"I want to believe we're not that group. I want to believe we're going to come out with the correct edge. We need to do that (tonight). These guys, like I said, are not going away. They're playing with a lot of conviction, and we have to match it."
There was some concern coming into the game that Moore was tipping his pitches by tapping his glove. He seemed to address that by keeping his left hand in his glove throughout his windup, but the results were not good. He said he was thinking about it "at times," but blamed an overall lack of command more.
"A click below what he normally looks like," Maddon said.
Joyce's error on Matt Wieters' two-out blooper to right was damning. He couldn't catch it, then over-ran it, then hesitated before throwing as he didn't immediately see that Adam Jones was coming around to score from first.
"He didn't understand totally the gravity of the moment," Maddon said. "He did not process the whole play."
Joyce said the ground was wet, and the ball didn't bounce as he thought it would, and he initially was concerned with keeping Wieters from going to second.
"Just a bad play," Joyce said. "Can't happen."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.