ST. PETERSBURG - Matt Joyce made the drive Monday night across the state, tweeting that he's on his way back from his minor league rehab assignment and will be on the field tonight when the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians play the second game of this four-game series.
That was the good news from Monday's 3-2 loss to the Indians at Tropicana Field, another one of those maddening games where the starting pitching was short-lived and the offense fell one hit shy of turning things around in the late innings not once, but twice.
The Rays failed to score at least four runs for the 15th time in their last 18 games. They have lost 12 of their last 18 and 15 of their last 23.
"We have underachieved," designated hitter Luke Scott said. "But that doesn't mean that we can't put it together and come away with a strong run here and do some damage."
Having Joyce and his .279 average in the lineup could help the Rays do some damage. He missed 23 games with a left external oblique strain. The Rays are 8-15 since Joyce went on the disabled list.
On Monday, the Rays left nine runners on base and were 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
Still, they had their chances.
The Rays trailed 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh when left fielder Desmond Jennings made it a one-run game with his first home run since June 29.
The Rays then received a two-out walk from Will Rhymes, who advanced to second on a passed ball. With left-hander Tony Sipp coming in from the Indians bullpen, Rays manager Joe Maddon sent Sean Rodriguez up to pinch-hit for first baseman Carlos Peña, a move that drew cheers from the Rays fans in the crowd of 14,337.
Rodriguez walked to put runners at first and second. Ben Zobrist followed, but struck out against Vinnie Pastano.
The Rays managed two hits in the eighth - a one-out single by Scott, who stole second, and a two-out infield single by Jennings that put runners on the corners.
Maddon sent Brooks Conrad up to pinch-hit for catcher Jose Molina, and Conrad worked the count full before looking at a called third strike.
In between the singles was an at-bat from third baseman Jeff Keppinger that almost changed the game. He lined a ball down the right field line that landed just foul, according to first base umpire Dale Scott.
"Keppinger's ball was one centimeter from tying up the game," Scott said.
After that, who knows?
"That's why you got to keep fighting, man, until that centimeter works in your favor," Maddon said. "It's a game of centimeters, actually, baseball is."
Rays starter Alex Cobb had trouble with his command, throwing exactly half of his 86 pitches for balls and lasting only 3 1/3 innings - his shortest outing of the season. The Indians scored three times off Cobb, though the first run came home on a passed ball by Molina and went as an unearned run.
"It happens early in the game and sometimes you don't give it as much weight, but they all count," Maddon said of the Indians first inning run. "It was significant."
Consecutive singles to open the fourth inning by B.J. Upton, Scott and Keppinger produced the Rays first run.
Cobb said he had trouble with his mechanics and couldn't finish his pitches. As a result, the Rays bullpen had to pick up 5 2/3 innings, which they did very well.
J.P. Howell replaced Cobb in the fourth inning with one out and the bases loaded and pitched out of the jam. He gave the Rays one more scoreless inning to increase his scoreless streak to 11 outings.
Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee and Fernando Rodney followed Howell and kept the Indians offense in check. The Rays defense kicked in, turning a franchise record-tying five double plays.
But the offense couldn't get that third run home.
"There was a lot of good stuff that happened. We just have to be a little more consistent getting that hit, that run," Maddon said. "But we played a pretty good game of baseball, and I'm pleased with that. When we play well and lose, I go home and I'm fine. I hate to disappoint people, but I am."
The game marked the return of former Rays Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon to the Trop. Both played a big part in the 2011 American League wild card banner that hangs above the left-field stands.
Another piece of Damon's legacy hangs in the corner of the Rays clubhouse. It's the Captain Morgan sign that is lit by the player of the game whenever the Rays win.
"It seems to get the boys excited," Damon said of the postgame tradition he started last season. "I don't want to hear about it being lit up (this series)."
The captain, which hangs on the wall next to Damon's old locker, remained dark Monday, thanks in part to Damon himself, who signaled a return to the one stadium he truly did not want to stop calling home with three hits, including a third-inning double, and a run scored.
"I miss being here every day, I'm not going to sugar coat it at all," Damon said. "It's always felt like home."
It felt like home Monday. Before the game Damon checked the wild card banner, 162 Landing and the seat in right field painted white to mark where Dan Johnson's ninth inning, season-saving home run landed on that final night if the regular season.
Joyce had a big part on that team as well, and now he's headed home after playing two games with Class-A Charlotte to try and move that centimeter in the Rays favor.
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