ST. PETERSBURG -- So much for the push, the impetus from Wednesday's thrilling come-from-behind walk-off win against the Texas Rangers that moved the Tampa Bay Rays to the top of the wild-card standings.
This roller coaster of a playoff chase for the Rays hit another one of those uphill climbs Thursday. Matt Moore didn't have much, and the offense had even less.
The result was an 8-2 loss to the Rangers in front of 13,550 fans at Tropicana Field.
“If I'm disappointed in anything is, after (Wednesday) night's win, was to come out and not play as well as we are capable,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
The Rays and Rangers finished this important late-season series where they began, tied for the wild-card lead after splitting the four games. The Rangers also won the season series, meaning the Rangers hold the tiebreaker should the two teams finish tied for the wild-card lead.
Also, the Cleveland Indians beat the Houston Astros to move within a half-game of the Rangers and Rays.
Now come the Baltimore Orioles for another four-game series at the Trop. The Orioles are two games out of the final wild-card position.
“There's someone responsible for the damage, and I'm that person,” Moore said. “Going into (the game) I had a chance to keep us atop the leader board as far as the wild card goes. Didn't happen. It's frustrating, but we'll be back at it (tonight).”
Moore allowed a career-high three home runs — all in the third inning — and lasted only four innings. He struck out six, but gave up six runs (five earned) on seven hits. It was Moore's first loss since June 14.
What made it more frustrating was Texas starter Yu Darvish walked six and allowed five hits in five innings and the Rays scored just two runs.
The Rays didn't help themselves by having two runners caught stealing second base in the second inning and hitting into double plays to end the third and fourth innings.
“We had beaucoup opportunities to score runs of our own,” Maddon said. “Even though you don't pitch as well as you'd like to, at some point you got to offensively beat somebody up. We ended up with two points tonight after having many, many, many opportunities. Darvish is wonderful, but he was totally off his game, six walks, and to not take advantage of that, that was our fault.”
Darvish had a rough, 40-pitch first inning, beginning when he hit David DeJesus on the toe with a pitch. Darvish retired the next two batters then walked Evan Longoria and allowed an RBI double to James Loney. Kelly Johnson drew a walk to load the bases. Desmond Jennings also walked to force in a run. But Jose Lobaton struck out to end the inning.
Moore had a rocky first inning, as well. Elvis Andrus reached on an error by Yunel Escobar, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Alex Rios.
Moore settled down in the second, retiring the Rangers in order with a pair of strikeouts.
But the Rangers teed off on him in the third inning, when Mitch Moreland, Andrus and Rios each hit a solo home run.
“Those home runs there, those are pretty tough to work around,” Moore said. “It doesn't matter if they're solo, three of them are going to put you in a hole.”
The home runs were nothing compared to how the Rangers scored their two runs in the fourth inning.
With the score 4-2, Andrus hit a grounder to short with Craig Gentry on third and Ian Kinsler on second with two outs. Escobar's throw was not in time to get Andrus. Gentry scored easily from third, and Kinsler didn't break stride and scored from second.
“That's a big play,” Maddon said. “That shouldn't have happened.”
Loney had to field the throw in the dirt before he could turn his attention toward Kinsler.
“They're very aggressive over there,” Loney said. “A lot of guys, good base runners, try to do that, try to take as many bases as they can. I was just too late. Once I caught it and turned, I threw it anyway.”
Rays fans did have something to cheer about in the later innings. Tim Beckham made his major-league debut as a pinch-hitter for Matt Joyce in the eighth and singled through the right side of the infield for his first big-league hit.
But the Rays continued their one-win, one-loss ways, gaining, then giving ground.
“We're not looking to get on a streak like (we did in July),” Moore said. “It's pretty unrealistic, but to put together some series wins would be nice.”