ST. PETERSBURG — The day began with a players-only meeting as Carlos Peña urged his teammates to pause and focus on the game at hand as opposed to getting too wrapped up in how much ground they have to make up to make the playoffs.
But the Rays know that when it comes to playing into October, actions will have to speak louder than words. And they'll need a better performance than Friday night's 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays in front of 21,522 at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay (61-54) has lost six of its past seven games, including a 1-5 road trip to Seattle and Anaheim, and fell five games behind Boston in the American League wild-card race.
The five-game losing streak matches the Rays' longest of the season.
"We're going through a difficult moment right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "And this is the time where we have to stick together, when it's difficult."
Maddon said if the Rays can continue to take the one-game-at-a-time approach — emphasized in the team meeting — they can make this nine-game homestand a successful one.
"You can't get caught up in one loss and all of a sudden start thinking the wrong things," he said. "I still feel really good about our group. I feel that there's some really good games coming our way. I think it's going to shift in our favor. I really do."
The Rays entered Friday having won all three previous matchups against Jays ace Roy Halladay this season, a string of success that included five wins against the All-Star right-hander during the past two years.
But a big reason why the Rays have done so well against Halladay is they got great performances from their starting pitchers. That was not the case Friday as right-hander James Shields (7-9) gave up five runs in the first three innings. Shields got better as the game went on, retiring 16 straight until Lyle Overbay's two-out single in the eighth.
"I think the first three innings were absolute garbage from my point, for me," Shields said. "I felt like I let the team down early and especially against a guy like Halladay."
The Jays got a two-run homer by Overbay in the first and solo shot by Adam Lind in the third. It could have been worse had it not been for two great catches by centerfielder B.J. Upton. He made a leaping grab against the wall in the first and a sliding catch in the fourth.
Meanwhile, Halladay kept the Rays at bay, scattering eight hits over eight innings for his 13th win of the season. Tampa Bay had some early opportunities but couldn't capitalize.
With two on and one out in the third, Jason Bartlett hit into a double play. In the fourth, a double by Carl Crawford and single by Evan Longoria put runners on first and third with no outs. But Ben Zobrist popped out, and Peña and Pat Burrell struck out.
The Rays didn't get on the board until the sixth, when Crawford hit a one-out double and advanced to third on an error. Longoria knocked him in with a sacrifice fly.
Catcher Gregg Zaun, making his Rays Trop debut, homered off Halladay in the eighth to make it 5-2.
"We had a chance, maybe, to score three or four (runs) possibly," Maddon said. "But that's the range you've got to work with (facing Halladay). If you're giving up more than that, he's normally going to win."