NEW YORK — Joe Maddon's plan for Saturday night was old-school Italian, the Rays manager heading over to Carmine's, the famous restaurant not far off Broadway that is one of his favorite New York stops.
But before he headed out of Yankee Stadium after the 5-3 loss, he had country music on his mind, suggesting that maybe a twangy ballad would be the best way to tell the all-too-familiar story of their latest disappointing defeat.
"Again, we've sang this song," Maddon said. "I'm sure we could make a nice country and western song out of this whole thing."
"Between your dog and your pickup, we came up short again. We came up short agin."
Agin and agin and agin.
Whatever ground, momentum and emotional stability the Rays gained on Friday night they gave back on Saturday, James Shields putting them in an early hole by allowing back-to-back homers in the second and another run in the fifth, and the offense — cue the fiddles and banjos — unable to make it up. It was the 15th of their past 16 losses to come by one or two runs.
"We've got to be able to score some runs sometimes, too," Maddon said. "It's not always about our pitchers giving up a couple points."
They fell to 78-67 and back to four games behind the Yankees in the American League East race, though still three back of the Orioles for the second AL wild card, and lost another day off the calendar, with only 17 games left.
In Maddon's office and on one side of the clubhouse, patience was being preached.
"We've still got some time," Shields said.
But in another corner, not so much.
"We don't have a lot of time," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "I'm not going to say that anymore. We don't have a lot of time left. We continue to lose, we're going to find ourselves mathematically eliminated pretty quickly."
Shields felt he made a good 0-and-1 pitch to Granderson, who swatted it into the jet stream that blows out to right for a two-run homer, his 39th of the season.
Shields couldn't, and shouldn't, have felt as good about the 1-and-1 cutter to Nunez, the reserve infielder who hadn't homered in nearly a year, since a Sept. 21 game against Shields, against whom he is 7-for-16.
As if that weren't bad enough, the Yankees fourth run, on a two-out, fifth-inning Derek Jeter single after Shields thought he had him struck out, proved to be the difference.
The Rays, stymied again by Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova — "He likes our uniform, I know that" Maddon noted — got one back on Longoria's eighth homer since coming off the DL Aug. 7.
Then two more runs in the seventh, Maddon making it obvious he was trying to get on top against the more vulnerable middle of the New York bullpen.
The odd rally included four pinch-hitters and a pinch-runner, two pitching changes, a poorly timed (and even more poorly executed) bunt by Ben Francisco, and an actual big hit from Luke Scott, who singled in two — his first multi-RBI day since July 8.
But that was it, as they went quickly in the eighth, then had a slim chance in the ninth when Francisco singled with one out, but only as much of a chance as sending up Ryan Roberts, rookie Stephen Vogt (0-for-17 in his career) and Elliot Johnson against Yankees closer Rafael Soriano could give you. (Roberts flew out, Vogt walked, Johnson struck out.)
"Again, it's the offense," Longoria said. "We've asked a lot from the pitching staff the whole year, and I can't say it enough — we've got to get hits, we've got to produce runs and however we have to do it, we have to do it.
"The time is now."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]