ST. PETERSBURG — This is how bad it was for the Rays offense Wednesday afternoon: Through eight innings, the White Sox had nearly as many hit batsmen (two) as the Tampa Bay did hits (three).
Though there were early fireworks — a fourth-inning ejection and warnings issued to both benches — and late life in the ninth inning, the Rays left quietly with a 4-3 loss in front of 13,369 at Tropicana Field as Chicago completed a three-game sweep.
It marked the first time Tampa Bay (29-22) has been swept in a three-game series since July 25-27, and the first time at home since the opening series in 2011.
"It hurts, there's no doubt about it," first baseman Carlos Peña said.
Though the injury-plagued Rays head into June battling the Orioles atop the AL East, manager Joe Maddon acknowledged the Rays are "not playing a real high level of baseball right now."
"Regardless if we're missing people or not, we expect more out of ourselves than that," Maddon said. "It's not about people that are missing, the people that are here, we have to figure out different ways to be more creative, more resourceful and get these runs."
The issue isn't just the offense, which scored six runs combined in the three losses to the red-hot White Sox (29-22), who have won 12 of their last 13. It was defense that cost the Rays a run, and starter Alex Cobb pitches, early on.
Utility infielder Drew Sutton, filling in for injured Evan Longoria at third, said he should have made a diving play on Paul Konerko's two-out single through the hole in the first inning. The next hitter, Alex Rios, ripped a hard grounder through Sutton for an RBI single. In the eighth, Gordon Beckham's pop-up bunt went under Peña's glove.
"There are plays we normally do make, either one guy or the other," Maddon said. "We're making a lot of mistakes defensively."
Cobb felt good in his abbreviated start but allowed four runs over five innings as well as two hit batsmen. He plunked Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski in the shoulder with a pitch in the third, though he said it wasn't on purpose. One inning later, White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana was ejected by plate umpire Mark Wegner for throwing behind Ben Zobrist, who apparently had an issue with Pierzynski over a slide into second base Tuesday night.
Said Maddon: "I thought (Wegner) did a great job and that really stopped it in its tracks."
The Rays, who had just a Luke Scott solo homer against Quintana, didn't fare much better against the White Sox bullpen, which allowed three hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Rays reliever Joel Peralta gave Tampa Bay a chance, getting out of a two-on, no-out jam in the ninth, retiring Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko and Rios in order.
Tampa Bay, which had zero runners left in scoring position until the ninth, mounted a rally. Peña, who had hit a two-run homer in the sixth, led off with a walk and Matt Joyce hit a one-out single. But Zobrist and Scott popped out to end it, Scott slamming his bat on the ground in frustration.
"Losing three in a row at home, obviously it's a big blow to us," Peña said. "The key is, how do we rebound from that. Guys are not just folding their tents."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.