The Rays have reveled in the difficult this season, forging their reputation by showing their resiliency and resolve in the most challenging of situations. Now they'll need to muster all of that, and more, to keep their amazing World Series season from ending badly. After an uninspired and uncharacteristic effort in a 10-2 loss to the Phillies in Game 4 Sunday, the Rays find themselves in treacherous territory, trailing 3-1 in the best-of-seven series and having to win three consecutive games. Of the 42 previous teams falling behind 3-1, only six have rallied to win, most recently the 1985 Royals, over the Cardinals. "We just need something to recapture the momentum of this whole thing," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "If we can just get that moment, we can turn this thing right around. I believe that. But we have to recapture that momentum somehow. We've been there. We just went through that whole thing (with Boston in the ALCS). But I don't want them thinking about winning three games in a row. I want them thinking about winning (tonight's) game."
That may be the toughest one, though, as the Rays have to play again in front of the hostile Philadelphia crowd, and they have to play against the hottest pitcher in the postseason, Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA in four starts, including an impressive Game 1 win. The Rays will start their own young lefty, Scott Kazmir. If they win, the Series returns to St. Petersburg for Game 6 on Wednesday and, possibly, Game 7 Thursday.
"To say I'm not worried would be wrong to say. But we've played for our lives before, we've played the win-or-go-home type of game (in Game 7 of the ALCS),'' said struggling rookie Evan Longoria, wearing a Superman T-shirt. "So we'll be excited to play (tonight) and come out here as a group of 25 and try to get it done."
"Down 3-1? It's been done before, we know that, so we can't say we're out," veteran Carl Crawford said. "We'll try to come back, fight hard (tonight), try to get that win and bring it back to Tampa (Bay). …
"This is definitely a big challenge. I think everybody here in the locker room is looking forward to it. We definitely don't want to lose the Series like this.'' Sunday's loss featured some uncharacteristic play by the Rays: poor pitching, as starter Andy Sonnanstine lasted only four innings, and sloppy defense, as a pair of errors by second baseman Akinori Iwamura led to two Philadelphia runs.
And there continued to be a huge hole in the middle of their lineup as Carlos Pena, who hasn't had a hit since Game 5 of the ALCS, went 0-for-3 to extend his Series hitless streak to 0-for-13, and Longoria went 0-for-4 with three more strikeouts, making him 0-for-16 with nine strikeouts. As a team, they have a .187 average and only six extra-base hits.
"When you don't hit, it infiltrates other things you do,'' Maddon said. "I'm sure it's weighing on some guys a bit.''
"We haven't been playing our game," Crawford said. "The timely hitting hasn't been there. The defense has been a little shaky. The pitching's been a little shaky. Everybody knows that's not the way we played. We've got to get back to what we're doing well."
There also was some intrigue, and potential controversy, as Maddon raised the question of whether Phillies starter Joe Blanton was using an illegal substance.
But the Rays had more troubles than that.
In the first inning, it was a leadoff double by Jimmy Rollins; a bad call by third-base umpire and crew chief Tim Welke, who ruled Rollins was safe getting back to third on a fielder's choice grounder despite a clear tag on the backside by Longoria; and the first career bases-loaded walk by Sonnanstine, who was uncharacteristically not sharp.
The third and fourth innings started with errors by Iwamura, the first two-error game of his career. The first led to one run, the second to a three-run homer by Ryan Howard as the Phillies started playing rough. They hit three more — by Blanton, Jayson Werth and another by Howard.
The Rays got their only runs on solo homers, by Crawford and a pinch-hit shot by Eric Hinske. It was their 25th homer of the postseason, the most by an American League team and matching the 2004 Astros for second-most. The 2002 Giants hit 27.
Tonight, they need to do more.
"I want the ball, definitely,'' Kazmir said. "It's going to be a tough game. They got their best guy out there. It's do or die for us. We know that.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com