ST. PETERSBURG — What went wrong for the Rays on Wednesday was painfully obvious.
The extraordinarily errant throw past the plate that allowed two runs to score. The pop-up that should have been caught but wasn't, leading to three runs. The misplaced bunt that took them out of a potential big inning.
And those were just Elliot Johnson's contributions as the Rays, most significantly, gave away two games in the standings with a 6-4 loss to the Yankees.
"We played and pitched well enough to win, absolutely we did. But we didn't," manager Joe Maddon said. "They're good. They took advantage of our mistakes, they win."
But Maddon, as is his wont, preferred to look at what they did right, winning two of the three games overall, getting to within 2½ games of the again American League East-leading Yankees and, at 75-62, staying 1½ behind the wild-card co-leading A's and Orioles, who both lost.
"Two out of three is not bad; I'll take it," Maddon said. "Prior to this series, roll back the tape, would have signed up for it in that moment. I'll take two out of three right now and move it from there. We picked up a game as they leave town. I think we picked up a lot of confidence also. I know our guys believe that we can beat these guys."
They'll have one more chance — at least in regular-season play — Sept. 14-16 in New York. First, the Rays, after today's off day, host Texas then play at Baltimore. And they will still have 16 games left after they leave Yankee Stadium.
Matt Moore pitched well, part of an overall 15-strikeout effort, done in as much by the defense as anything he did wrong, over 61/3 innings. ESPN studio analyst John Kruk claimed Moore was tipping his pitches, but Maddon said it couldn't have been much of a problem as Moore struck out nine: "If they knew what was coming, then he had really great stuff."
Moore said the issue has come up before, as he tends to pump his left hand when throwing a fastball, but that it's much more apparent on TV, from the centerfield cameras, then to the batters. "There could be a case to be made there," he said. "We'll have to look at some film."
Johnson's most costly mistake came in the seventh, score tied at 4. The Yankees had men on second and third with one out and Derek Jeter up, the Rays had the infield in and Kyle Farnsworth got the ground ball they wanted, pretty much right to Johnson. But with Ichiro Suzuki running he rushed and sailed it several feet wide of the plate.
"I did my best to try to get rid of it as quickly as I could and get it there as fast as I could," Johnson said.
Said Maddon: "That play if it's made right there … I think we could have won the game under those circumstances."
In the second, the Rays, leading 1-0 before another half-empty Trop crowd of 16,711, had men on second and third with one out when Maddon called for a bunt, but Johnson pushed it right back to the mound. In the fourth, Johnson went back for a Jeter blooper, with Sam Fuld charging in, and got his glove on it but didn't hold it (though it was scored a hit), leading to three Yankees runs.
"It's a tough one to take," Fuld said. "It's disappointing. But all in all, if we keep winning two out of three then we'll be in pretty good shape."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]