SEATTLE — The Rays were beaten in Wednesday's game when Steve Geltz's misplaced fastball was launched over the centerfield fence by Chris Iannetta, the 6-5 11-inning decision a stinging sendoff as they boarded the long flight home.
Given how they had come back from a first-inning deficit twice to tie, on a grand slam by Corey Dickerson in the sixth then a ninth-inning homer by Kevin Kiermaier, just to force extra innings, it was a particularly bitter defeat.
"After the way that game started and the way it finished," third baseman Evan Longoria said, "it feels a little bit rougher that way."
But the painful loss can be traced back to early transgressions — collectively by their hitters, which isn't anything new, and individually by starter Chris Archer, which has surprisingly become more of an issue.
Certainly their ongoing, exasperating inability to perform with runners in scoring position was again a prominent factor in their demise, as they dropped to 15-17 by following their sweep of the Angels with three straight losses to the Mariners.
Five times after they tied the score on Kiermaier's one-out homer in the ninth, they had at-bats with runners in scoring position, and five times they failed. For the day, they were 2-for-10 in those vital situations.
"Definitely a winnable game," Longoria said. "We had opportunities late. We had a lot of opportunities. And we left them out there. … We just weren't able to get the hit."
Having watched his team slog to a majors-worst .211 batting average with runners in scoring position for the season, manager Kevin Cash acknowledged their shortcoming.
"We've got to find a way to win that ball game, and we just didn't," he said.
But Cash went further back, before the aborted ninth-, 10th- and 11th-inning rallies, to seemingly pin the blame on Archer, the All-Star ace who left the Rays down 3-0 with a messy 33-pitch first inning that included three walks.
"He's just got to throw strikes," Cash said. "That's the bottom line. He's got to get the ball over the plate. He knows that. All of our pitchers, that goes for everybody. We're going to be successful riding those guys. And they've got to throw strikes."
Archer didn't have much of an answer, saying he didn't "really know where to point the finger" for the first-inning fail, which included falling behind the first five hitters and a wild pitch. But he said he was more focused on how he pitched over the next four innings (lifted after a walk to start the sixth and, perhaps unexpectedly, at 91 pitches) and "really happy" to have kept it close, allowing one more run on Nelson Cruz's homer.
"There's going to be times when you're not in the zone as much as you want to be," he said. "But I was happy to keep the game where it was at."
But his reply as to what the difference was actually seemed to reveal the answer.
"I didn't consciously change anything physically," he said. "Probably more just mentally, saying, 'You know what, beating around the zone didn't work, so I might as well start attacking.' And that did bode much better. Is that the right word, bode? Bode well."
So, then — and this isn't the first time this has come up with Archer — why not be that aggressive from the start?
"I think that I definitely should," Archer said. "And that is the goal going into my next start, for sure."
The lack of command was an issue when Archer began the season with four straight losses and an ugly 7.32 ERA. He showed improvement over his next three, posting a 2-0, 0.96 mark, but he still wasn't blade sharp. He had plenty of confidence going into Wednesday's start, saying this three-pitch arsenal was locked and loaded and jokingly referring to it as Lethal Weapon 3. Then he took a walk on the wild side.
"Look, we put ourselves in a hole in the first inning," Cash said. "We can't walk guys. This organization is built around pitching. And that's probably the first thing — you've got to throw strikes. And we did not today."
And more than anything else, that seemed to be what cost them the most.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.