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ANOTHER NIGHT, ANOTHER STUNNER

A walkoff blast off Dan Wheeler keeps the Rays skidding.

The Rays have seen so much go wrong the past few weeks. Tuesday night, they stood on the field stunned as they watched the latest blow, Nick Swisher's walkoff homer that barely cleared the rightfield wall in a 3-2 loss to the Yankees.

"I think it was just more shock," said Dan Wheeler, who became the fourth reliever to give up a game-deciding homer in the past month. "We're just trying to get out of this slump right now, the whole team, we just need to pull out a victory somehow."

Instead, the Rays (72-67) extended their season-long losing streak to seven and dropped 8-1/2 games behind the wild-card leading Red Sox - and one Seattle win from slipping to fourth place - with 23 games left.

"It's no fun, is it?" Maddon said. "Several days ago we were in decent shape."

And how would he describe it now?

"Less than decent," he said. "Very indecent. It's indecent exposure right now."

The bullpen has been the focal point of their failure. It was the fifth of the past six games to be decided in the eighth or later, and the bullpen's 10th loss (to go with eight blown saves) over the past 30 games.

And that's how Tuesday's ended, Wheeler getting one out then leaving a fastball up that Swisher laced, the ball barely clearing the wall in hitter-friendly rightfield, for their sixth walkoff loss. Wheeler joined J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour and Russ Springer in giving up a homer in the opponents' final at-bat in the past month.

"The inches have been going against us," Maddon said. "We have to regain the inches somehow. ... This is pretty much the script for the last two weeks."

But Tuesday was more of a team effort.

After scoring just two runs in 18 innings Monday, the Rays managed only two more, on homers by Evan Longoria (their only run in six-plus innings against former teammate Chad Gaudin) and Jason Bartlett, which tied the score in the eighth.

And as much as they keep saying the right things about how they are still playing hard, they don't necessarily look it. Tuesday they made four outs on the bases: Carl Crawford (who snapped an 0-for-19 skid) got caught in a rundown after hesitating in breaking to the plate and later was picked off first, Ben Zobrist was thrown out trying to steal on a full-count pitch and Chris Richard was doubled off on a liner.

There were a couple of things that went right.

David Price gave them six solid innings, allowing only a long homer to Swisher in the second and a two-out RBI single by Alex Rodriguez in the sixth. Maddon raved, but Price, typically, wasn't pleased: "I threw the ball all right, and I kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win, but I need to throw the ball better."

And he earned a footnote as the Rays again blanked Derek Jeter, who is 0-for-12 in the series and still three hits from tying Lou Gehrig atop the Yankees' all-time list. Price, according to baseball-reference.com, became the second lefty to strike out Jeter three times in a game, joining former Ray Jim Parque, who did it for the White Sox on May 14, 1999.

Longoria had a productive night, becoming the fifth Ray to hit 30 homers in a season, tying a team record by driving in a run in eight consecutive games and extending his hitting streak to a career-high 12 games.

Still, everything is going wrong. "Seems like it," Wheeler said.

Marc Topkin can be reachedat topkin@sptimes.com

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