ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays began Friday in Chicago, arriving home around 4 a.m. after a late-night flight and the most successful road trip in club history.
Manager Joe Maddon said they felt the effects of the travel early in a 6-5 loss to the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field, but after showing their trademark fight, Rays players felt they should have been playing later into the night.
With previously sizzling starter Matt Garza fizzling through five innings (giving up five runs), the Rays (12-5) nearly picked him up, battling from a five-run deficit to put the tying run on second with two outs in the ninth. But Ben Zobrist, who worked a 3-and-1 count against Kevin Gregg, said he swung at a pitch out of his zone before getting called out on strikes to end any walk-off dreams of the 22,056 in the seats.
"We should still be playing right now," said Zobrist, who just got a long-term contract extension. "But I swung at a ball, and then got a ball called on me. … It's disappointing just because we feel like we could have won that game.
"Even though we were behind, we came back and we had all the momentum in the world there. It was just disappointing that it ended the way it did."
Garza, who entered Friday's start with an American League-best 0.75 ERA, didn't have his same command, surrendering more runs in the first inning (four) than he had in his previous 24 innings. He labored throughout, walking four, hitting one and throwing a wild pitch.
"I didn't do my job (Friday night); I let the guys down," Garza said. "I usually have good stuff against (the Jays), and … they came out, they looked hungrier than I did. They just had a mission on their faces saying, 'We're not going to let him do what he's done to us in the past.' "
Frustration boiled over later, when catcher Dioner Navarro was ejected by home plate umpire Dan Bellino in the top of the sixth for arguing balls and strikes. He inadvertently bumped Bellino after he got thrown out, which could potentially lead to a suspension. Maddon said if that happens, Sean Rodriguez could fill in as backup catcher "comfortably."
"I just kind of lost my composure," Navarro said. "I've got to know better than that. It was my fault. We'll see what happens."
The bullpen helped pick up Garza, with five relievers combining to give up just one run over the final four innings. Grant Balfour was tagged for a solo homer, but Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate (who had two strikeouts) and Lance Cormier had effective outings, with closer Rafael Soriano (pitching for the first time since Saturday) tossing a 1-2-3 ninth while striking out two.
That allowed the Rays offense a chance to battle back. The Rays struggled early against Jays left-hander Brett Cecil, picking up just one hit through the first four innings.
Willy Aybar — in his first game back since the birth of his son, Willy Jr. — got it started with a two-out solo homer in the fifth. Rightfielder Gabe Kapler walked and scored (on a Zobrist double) in the sixth and added a two-run homer on a full-count pitch in the seventh. And B.J. Upton, who had another spectacular over-the-shoulder catch, knocked in a run with a two-out single in the eighth.
But that was as close as the Rays would get, as Carl Crawford was stranded on second after a two-out ground-rule double in the ninth.
"They just held on," Maddon said. "But I loved the fight."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.