ST. PETERSBURG — One way to look at Thursday's 8-7 loss to the last-place Orioles, and the way manager Joe Maddon looked at it, was how hard the Rays tried and how close they came to catching up. Twice, they got to within one and left a man on. And in the ninth, they got to within 90 feet of tying it.
"The want-to was absolutely fantastic," he said. "And that's all I can ask for."
But the other way to look at Thursday's game was how they got into that position, how the dramatics of Ben Zobrist's three-run homer in the sixth and Carlos Peña's broken-bat two-run single in the eighth were negated by a combination of bad execution and failed decisions.
The short version?
Twice Maddon went to the bullpen, and both moves couldn't have worked out much worse.
Lance Cormier came in with the score 1-1 in the sixth and gave up a grand slam to his first batter, Brian Roberts.
With the deficit cut to 5-4 in the seventh, Russ Springer gave up a three-run homer to his first batter, rookie Nolan Reimold, to make it 8-4.
"I felt good about Lance in that moment. I felt good about Springs in that moment," Maddon said. "They got us."
They'll find that out tonight, when they open what amounts to a somewhat important series against the Rangers and Josh Hamilton that could figure significantly in the composition of the wild-card race. The Red Sox lead, the Rangers are one game back and the Rays, who dropped to 65-55, are four back with 42 to play.
"There's no negative for me … except that we did not win it," Maddon said. "You're going to lose some tough games. You're going to lose some tough games down the stretch. And to me, it's about how you file that and move on to the next day that matters."
To make sure, Maddon had his latest prompt cued up with Ring of Fire playing loudly in the clubhouse precisely 30 minutes after the game, the signal to officially move on. But that might be tougher the way Thursday's game unfolded.
Cormier typically doesn't work in such high-leverage situations, but Maddon said he had been plotting the matchup all series. So after the O's loaded the bases on Evan Longoria's throwing error and two walks by starter James Shields, the second on his 106th pitch after having two outs and an 0-and-2 count on No. 9 hitter Felix Pie, Maddon made the move.
Cormier, admittedly excited by the opportunity, didn't do much with it. He got behind 2-and-0 and, concerned about the walk, stuck with his fastball. And Roberts was waiting for it.
"I gave him too good of a pitch to hit," Cormier said.
Maddon called for Springer after Cormier walked the first two in the seventh, and the veteran, after getting ahead 1-and-2, failed miserably as well.
"I pretty much had a game plan, and then for some reason, I didn't follow it," Springer said. "I threw him fastballs away. I got two strikes, and instead of following my game plan, I threw him another fastball away and left it up. Stupid. Stupid on my part."
The Rays had one more shot in the ninth, despite B.J. Upton, who'd been swinging well, unexpectedly — "I don't know why I did it," he said — and unsuccessfully trying to bunt for a hit. Jason Bartlett singled, stole second and went to third on Carl Crawford's groundout but was stranded went Longoria went down swinging.
"Kind of a tough loss for us," Shields said.