ST. PETERSBURG — If only the Rays could play the Red Sox every game.
That may be an exaggeration, but after "turning up the dial," taking three of four from Boston and seemingly finding their stride, Evan Longoria said the Rays had to find a way to maintain their intensity against everybody else and not play to the level of their competition.
Manager Joe Maddon liked the Rays' energy and fight Monday night against the struggling Orioles, but "we just couldn't make the pitch or get the hit."
As a result, Tampa Bay took a disappointing step back in an 8-4 loss to the last-place Orioles, who had come in having lost six straight.
The Rays are 5-2 against Boston, 6-14 against everybody else.
"You know, that just shows you we're capable of beating some good teams; we just have to put it together more consistently," Maddon said. "That part is a bit frustrating, but like I said, there were a lot of good things that happened (Monday). We just got beat."
Everything for Tampa Bay (11-16) seemed a bit off, including the starting pitching (Scott Kazmir was charged with six runs), the bullpen (Joe Nelson gave up two runs and four hits) and the crowd (at an announced 12,658, the smallest this season at Tropicana Field).
Even the typically sure-handed defense was spotty. Gold Glove first baseman Carlos Pena picked up as many errors (two) as he had all last season.
"It kind of seems like the intensity is really not there with the crowd and whatnot," Kazmir said. "But for a pitcher, you have to have that no matter what; you have to go out there and battle, no matter what team you're facing, no matter what the crowd is like."
Kazmir got off to a rocky start, walking the first two batters he faced before giving up a three-run homer to Nick Markakis on a hanging slider. Maddon liked how Kazmir seemed to right himself after that and get in a better rhythm, minimizing damage by allowing four runs through the first six innings.
But Kazmir (3-3), who lasted 61/3 innings, said he's still battling mechanical issues, from "flying open" in his delivery to not using his lower body enough. "Just not feeling myself at all," he said.
Offensively, the Rays got a solo homer from Longoria (named AL player of the week Monday) and scratched a couple more across on two Jason Bartlett groundouts. Maddon said he liked the situational hitting, the way the Rays knocked in runners from third with outs.
The Rays tied the score at 4 in the sixth, with Willy Aybar, filling in for Pat Burrell at designated hitter, hitting an RBI single to score Carlos Peña. But after Aybar advanced to third with one out, the Rays couldn't knock him in.
Kazmir was relieved in the seventh with one out after he gave up two singles. But Nelson, who came in with eight scoreless outings in 10 appearances, walked Melvin Mora on four pitches before ex-Rays Aubrey Huff (sacrifice fly) and Ty Wigginton (RBI double) gave the Orioles a 6-4 lead.
Baltimore scored two more on Nelson in the eighth, on a two-run homer by Brian Roberts. Nelson gave up nearly as many hits (four) as he had the whole season (five). He said he liked his pitch selection but his location was off, and he paid the price.
"The four I gave up were obviously the difference in the game," Nelson said. "Left some pitches up, got hit."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]