ARLINGTON, Texas — The day began with the Rays glowing over their record number of All-Star selections, reflecting on some impressive individual accomplishments in the season's first half.
They talked about the need to bounce back from a three-game losing streak, not wanting to limp into the All-Star break like they did a year ago, when they lost seven straight.
But on another balmy night in Texas, the Rays suffered another forgettable loss, 5-2 to the Rangers in front of an ESPN national TV audience, getting swept for the second time this season.
"They just outplayed us," manager Joe Maddon said. "I think they outplayed us for three consecutive days."
Said first baseman Carlos Peña: "They flat-out beat us."
Tampa Bay (44-39) ended a once-promising road trip, which began with two well-pitched victories to extend a season-high seven-game winning streak, with four straight losses.
The Rays return home, hoping that getting back to Tropicana Field will help them get back on track. After failing on two straight nights to make up a game on the first-place Red Sox, the Rays fell to six games back in the AL East heading into today's off day before a three-game set with the Blue Jays.
"You win the first two games in Toronto, and to lose the next four is disappointing," Maddon said. "There's no question it's disappointing. We have to do better than that."
The resurgent Rangers (45-35), winners of five straight, have been playing well by doing what the Rays did during their seven-game streak: Their starting pitching was strong, their defense sharp and bullpen dominant.
"They pitched well — period," Maddon said of the Rangers.
Right-hander Matt Garza didn't pitch as well as he did in his past two strong starts, struggling with his command in lasting just five innings. Garza, who gave up five runs and seven hits over 102 pitches, said he was aggressive and his stuff was there, but his location wasn't, resulting in falling behind too many hitters, putting them in more "comfortable and confident positions."
He battled out of some jams, but the Rangers scored three on sacrifice flies and one on a fielder's choice.
"Five runs in five innings, that's not good enough," Garza said. "That doesn't give us a chance to win, it puts the pressure on the offense and that's not my job. My job is to keep them down and let our offense go rampant."
Problem was, the Rays offense hasn't gotten out of its recent funk, matching a season-low three hits for the second time in three nights. Carl Crawford, however, did extend his hitting streak to 13 games.
The Rays hit the ball hard at times, but right at people, which resulted in two tough-luck double plays. Tampa Bay's bullpen was strong, combining for three scoreless innings. But the Rays were retired in 1-2-3 fashion in the final three innings.
The Rangers "came to play," Peña said. "And they flat-out … we just got beat."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected].com.