NEW YORK — There were a lot of things for the Rays to be feeling after losing both games of Wednesday's doubleheader by the same frustrating, decided-late 4-2 margins and watching the Yankees celebrate the clinching of the American League East title that had been theirs.
But what prevailed at the end of the long day was lucky. Followed by a dose of fortunate. And a pinch of blessed.
Despite losing three straight to the Yankees, the Rays are getting extra lives in the wild-card playoff race as the Red Sox continue to stumble, losing again to the last-place Orioles. That left the Rays still just 2½ games out, though now with only seven games remaining and the additional element of the Angels officially joining the party, with the same 85-70 record as the Rays.
"Absolutely you feel lucky," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're very fortunate that Baltimore has played as well as they have. … We are fortunate. We've never done anything easily, so let's do this in a more difficult manner.
"I'm not disheartened. I believe we can still do this. I believe our players do, also. We have to be more efficient on offense."
Efficient would be a major step forward. In the three games here, the Rays have scored a grand total of four runs. "Once again," Maddon said, "the inability to get a big hit at the right time is kicking our butt."
It's also wasting some excellent starting pitching, and magnifying mistakes by the short-handed bullpen as both games were decided in the eighth inning.
In the matinee, the Rays had a 2-1 lead and James Shields on the mound and couldn't hold it, as Shields allowed the tying run on a homer and J.P. Howell gave up a two-run double to Robinson Cano.
In the nightcap, they got a solid outing from Jeremy Hellickson and battled CC Sabathia to get to the eighth 2-2, but the bullpen busted as the Yankees loaded the bases on a pinch-hit double and two walks and Jorge Posada delivered a two-run single.
"We're definitely not out of it," outfielder Matt Joyce said. "We're not playing terrible baseball. We're putting up good games. The Yankees are tough, they've played really well. We have to come back (tonight), we understand what we have to do. Right now our backs are against the wall, so we're really going to see what the team is made of."
The start of the night game was delayed 62 minutes by a light rain — so light the tarp wasn't even pulled on the field — making a long day even longer.
The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the second when Cano opened the second by knocking Hellickson's 2-and-1 pitch over the rightfield wall, then made it 2-0 in the fourth when they loaded the bases and scored on rookie Jesus Montero's double-play grounder.
But the Rays came back to tie it off Sabathia with solo homers by the unlikely duo of Kelly Shoppach and Sean Rodriguez.
The Rays had a prime opportunity to go ahead in the eighth, loading the bases and knocking out Sabathia on singles by Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton and a walk by Evan Longoria, who worked his way back from an 0-and-2 count.
But Ben Zobrist — who spent the morning at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg as his newborn daughter underwent a medical procedure — swung at the first pitch from David Robertson and grounded into a double play. It was a tough day overall for Zobrist, who arrived in time to pinch-hit in the first game and ended the night with four strikeouts and the double play.
There was plenty of blame to go around after the 4-2 matinee loss.
Shields said he deserved it for failing to hold the lead. "I'm extremely disappointed," he said. "I've got to do a better job in the eighth inning right there. That's my game right there."
Howell said he deserved it for giving up the crucial hit, falling behind 3-and-1 then hanging a changeup, in a critical moment, as he did last week in Baltimore as well. "I feel bad, I feel terrible," Howell said. "It's tough, it's really tough."
DH Johnny Damon said he deserved it for striking out twice with men on base, but he really was speaking for the whole lineup as it couldn't do more against an octet of Yankees pitchers, including fill-in starter Hector Noesi and three other fringe members of the staff.
"The offense, including myself, was not good at all," Damon said. "We should have scored more."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]