ST. PETERSBURG — After scoring just one run in each of their first three games and rapping 12 hits total en route to the worst start in franchise history, the Rays were correct in their belief that things were going to change.
Tuesday, they came out and scored three runs (!) — as part of a season-high five-hit extravaganza (!!!) — but lost for a fourth straight time anyway, 5-3 to the Angels.
And while there were hints of hope, such as the way they rallied from the 4-0 second-inning hole starter Jeff Niemann put them in, there were also signs of frustration, with fans in the small crowd of 13,173 booing Manny Ramirez as his 0-for-4, three-strikeout night extended his bad start to 1-for-16 (.063), and manager Joe Maddon and centerfielder B.J. Upton voicing their objections.
Overall, despite being one of three teams without a victory (the Red Sox being another) and falling four games out of first (matching their biggest deficit all of last season), the Rays are trying to take it for what it is: four games out of 162, 2.5 percent of their schedule, the equivalent of less than the first half of the first Bucs game of a season.
"It's tough, especially with this young team," said new Ray but veteran outfielder Johnny Damon. "You're 0-4, you hear all this that the team is not the same. Well, we have 158 games to go. It's not like football. You go 0-4 in football, it's like losing 40 straight baseball games.
"We're definitely upset where we're at. The positive is we scored as many runs tonight as we did the first three games. You get buzzard luck sometimes."
In more common words, the Rays are taking some solace that they're hitting the ball well, just at people, which is why they have a .138 average and .497 team OPS and have yet to hold a lead.
"Honestly, I'm not displeased," Maddon said. "0-4 is no good, I don't like that part of it. But I do like, we're playing the game pretty well right now. We're just not hitting, and that happens. …
"If our pitching was awful and we were making a lot of errors and stuff, I'd be concerned. If the esprit de corps wasn't good and we weren't playing with the kind of verve that I like to see, I would be concerned."
While the Rays did rally back, with Sean Rodriguez homering in the third and Upton, who has hits in all four games, adding a loud two-run shot in the eighth, they also failed to take advantage of two odd breaks.
With two on in the seventh, catcher John Jaso flat-out missed a pitch, but the ball bounced squarely off his left knee guard and right back to pitcher Juan Cruz, who tossed to third for the old 2-1-5 putout that no one seemed to remember seeing before. ("Maybe in Little League," Maddon said. "I might have done that with Unico one time.")
Then with two on in the bottom of the inning, pinch-hitter Felipe Lopez made what appeared to be the final out on a liner to shortstop Macier Izturis, but second-base umpire Sam Holbrook ruled it wasn't caught. But Damon lined out to left.
"You can't do much more than we're doing right now," Upton said. "It seems like every day we come out there we're hitting the ball hard, just feels like we're hitting it right at them. We've just got to dig a little bit deeper, keep having good at-bats. Eventually they're going to fall."
Eventually. It just seems like an eternity.