ST. PETERSBURG — The manager feels they're playing tight and doesn't know why. The centerfielder feels their inexperience is hurting them in key situations. And a nearly empty Rays clubhouse after Tuesday's 7-5 loss to the Red Sox may have said more than anything.
"I think that's why you don't see anybody else in the clubhouse right now," B.J. Upton said. "Guys are frustrated. Really can't say much more than that. Guys are frustrated and there's really nothing we can do about it."
As much as the Rays are saying all the right things about battling to stay in the playoff race, needing to look within for answers and making things happen rather than waiting for help, they're playing like they want to go home.
Another poor starting pitching performance, with Jeremy Hellickson failing to get through the fifth. Another sloppy effort in the field, with three errors for a second straight night. Another — you guessed it — quiet night at the plate, with one hit into the seventh inning and three — THREE! — total.
And another day closer to the mathematical elimination that will make official the true squandering of their once-so-promising season.
"I don't have anything brilliant to say," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're just not playing well and we've got to figure it out relatively quick. Not relatively quick, but very quickly."
As it is, the end is approaching rapidly. The loss was the Rays' seventh in their past eight games, dropping them to 78-70, 5½ games behind the Orioles, who played late at Seattle, for the second wild-card spot and six from the first-place Yankees, with only 14 to play.
Tuesday, at another two-thirds empty Trop (an announced 11,502), was just the latest example. They took an early 3-0 lead but gave it away, Hellickson faltering and Sean Rodriguez, starting at third, making two more errors, and they soon were trailing 7-3.
The Sox allowed them to stay in the game with their own poor pitching, and the Rays closed to 7-5 in the seventh when Ben Zobrist got his second, and their second, hit, but Evan Longoria grounded out with two on, and that was pretty much it.
Maddon said the effort is good, but the odd part is how they are playing.
"We normally thrive in these moments and we're playing kind of tight," he said. "We're playing uptight. We're jonesing a little bit out there and I don't understand why."
Maddon said it's unexpected and unexplainable because they have tried to keep the clubhouse loose, as in the past, making a point to not put any more emphasis on these games. (If anything, they make it very relaxed: Today, for example, the clubhouse won't open until 3, there is no formal pregame work and players don't have to be dressed until 6 p.m.)
The one difference is the makeup of the roster, and Upton agreed there may be an issue with some of the newer members of the team.
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"I think we have a number of guys that haven't been in this type of situation and don't know how to handle it," he said. "That comes with time, that comes with experience, but unfortunately that might be a little bit of what we're dealing with."
Whatever it is, they don't have much time to figure it out.