DETROIT — Brandon Gomes was trying to throw a slider, but the ball ended up merely spinning over the plate, at least until Detroit's Rajai Davis knocked it beyond the leftfield fence.
The seventh-inning home run was the tipping point in Monday's holiday matinee 5-4 loss to the Tigers as the Rays, who'd come back twice previously, who made a valiant bid in the ninth leading to an odd ending, could not quite overcome the difference. Again.
"That's a tough one there," Gomes said. "We're at the point where every win is essential, so one pitch can be the difference in the game. Unfortunately, that was it."
Unfortunately for the Rays, that has been the case too many times in their bid for a playoff spot that is rapidly slipping away, too many games lost because they didn't get the one big hit to produce the key run, didn't make the big play or the big pitch to avoid giving one up.
"We've got to win them," starter Drew Smyly said. "It seems like we're 50-50 — win some, lose some. But to make the playoffs you always have to win those close games, especially in September."
Instead, they are looking up at the playoff field, 4½ games back of the second wild card with 25 left as they dropped to a season-high-matching three games under .500 at 67-70.
But consider this: 79 of those 137 games have been decided by two or fewer runs, the most of any team in the majors.
And, consider this: The Rays are 40-39 in those games, 24-24 in one-run games.
While better than their performance in less tense games (27-31), it is still not good enough. Also, of considerable consternation, they are only 2-11 in extra innings and have 11 walkoff losses compared to one win.
Manager Kevin Cash said there is no one reason for their inability to do better when it matters most.
"I think it's a combination of a lot of things," he said. "Sometimes you can put it on not getting the big hit, sometimes it's not making the big pitch. I don't think it's one glaring need of anything."
But a few minutes later, he made it sound like the missing element was less tangible but more important, and something they can improve upon.
"There are some young guys here that are learning a ton throughout these games, where every play means something, every at-bat means something," he said. "You'd like to think … we're going to continue to learn in those situations and we'll be better for it.
"You look at a guy like Longo (Evan Longoria) — he comes up and gets the big home run. He is very aware of the style of baseball the Tampa Bay Rays play, and it doesn't faze him at all. And you hope more guys get that experience, and they will."
But that doesn't help for now, as Monday's game was another they couldn't afford to lose and did, even worse to a Tigers team that isn't playing for anything. (Also worth noting, not many of the position players are that young, though most of the pitchers are.)
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Smyly, facing his old mates for the first time, gave up a two-run homer to Davis in the third. Longoria brought the Rays back with his two-run shot, his fifth homer in seven games and 19th of the season.
Smyly gave up another two-run homer in the fourth to James McCann — a college buddy, and no relation to Yankees backstop Brian who helped beat them twice over the weekend. The Rays pulled even in the fifth when J.P. Arencibia hit a massive blast — StatCasted at 464 feet — and Mikie Mahtook an RBI single.
But that razor-thin edge showed up in the seventh, when Gomes, working a second inning and featuring what he said was his best stuff in a while, gave the Tigers the lead when he faced Davis.
And again in the ninth, when the Rays loaded the bases with their hottest hitter at the plate only to see Logan Forsythe ground sharply into a game-ending force play at second, Ian Kinsler just keeping his foot on the base as he took the throw.
Even then, the game wasn't really over for another 38 seconds, as the umps had the replay crew in New York check and, ultimately, confirm the call, creating an awkward moment with the Tigers on the field ready to celebrate and the Rays staying put on the bases as Cash hovered anxiously.
"A very odd scene," he said. "I'm sitting out there and half their dugout is out there shaking hands and you don't want to get caught in the crossfire, you want to make sure you got it right."
But in the end, they lost another close one.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.