MINNEAPOLIS — The Rays came away from Tuesday's 3-2 loss impressed with how they battled in the ninth inning to have a chance and irritated with the call that denied them on the final play.
But it was what they did — and didn't do — earlier that left them in that position, dropping five games behind the division-leading Yankees at 47-39.
"It's frustrating only because we know we need to do better right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're coming to the end of the first half, you want to finish this strongly moving into the second half. The teams in front of us are very good, so we need to finish this half strongly in order to really put ourselves in good position for the second half."
Trailing 3-1 after another night of inept offense, plus some defensive miscues (the biggest by All-Star outfielder Matt Joyce) and less than the expected stellar start from All-Star James Shields, the Rays had a chance in the ninth.
B.J. Upton homered to make it 3-2, then they got two more on as Casey Kotchman singled and Kelly Shoppach walked off Twins beleaguered — and, so much for Minnesota nice, booed — closer Matt Capps. But Glen Perkins got Johnny Damon on a ground out for the final out; leaving Ben Zobrist, who had three hits, on deck. Or at least that's the way first-base umpire Gary Darling saw it.
"Did you guys see the replays? I felt like it was pretty obvious," Damon said. "The umpire walked off like it wasn't even a close play, like I was going to get called out regardless.
"Normally on a bang-bang play, you've got to try to sell it. When there was no emotion, I thought for sure he was calling me safe. They looked pretty stunned, too; the Twins were kind of laughing and saying they got one. And unfortunately for us it happened to be in a key situation of the game."
Shields needed 105 pitches to get through six innings, saying, "I was fighting myself the whole game," starting with issues with the mound. He was pleased to limit the damage, and picked off two runners to push his total to an MLB-high and team record 10.
The Rays made mistakes behind him early.
In the first, Evan Longoria made a questionable decision to throw to first rather than home to try to thwart the first run. "When it was hit to me I played it all through my mind," he said. But since the coaches had just moved him back he assumed they were playing for the out at first. He apologized to Shields afterward.
The Rays were worse in the third as the Twins scored two. Shortstop Elliot Johnson stayed back too long, allowing Ben Revere to turn a one-out bouncer into an infield single. After a walk and an out, Joyce charged hard, then pulled up too late on Michael Cuddyer's sinking liner, and the ball bounced by as both scored.
"One of those in-between plays," Joyce said. "I realized at the last second I wasn't going to be able to catch it and I tried to slow up and stop it and it kind of skipped on me and went right under my glove. … The runners were probably both going to score, but still it's a mistake that can't happen."
Maddon was more concerned with what they didn't so, specifically score more than two runs (going 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position). "We need to be able to outhit some mistakes on occasion, too," he said. "We've got to get off the schneid with our offense, we've got to be a little more consistent."