Rays handed tough loss as postseason race grows tight

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — By the end, little was new here. Only more frustration, more blown chances, more reasons to wonder.

Oh sure, the Tampa Bay Rays teased Wednesday. They turned a two-run deficit after six innings into a tie by the end of the eighth. They fought. They forced extra innings.

By the end, though, little had changed. Another loss. More questions about where this team will go.

Boston Red Sox 7, Rays 3 in 10 innings.

“It just slipped out of our hands,” Rays right-hander Alex Cobb said.

This one was rough, elbow-to the-gut bad. Mike Carp smacked a 410-foot grand slam to center field off reliever Roberto Hernandez in the 10th, and Tropicana Field turned into Fenway Park South. Fans streamed into the aisles. A “Let’s go, Red Sox!” lifted into air.

The Rays’ postseason outlook took another hit.

The threats are plenty now. The New York Yankees are one game back of the second wild-card spot. The Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians 1.5 games each. The Kansas City Royals two.

Those teams are charging. The Rays? Stuck in reverse. The most puzzling part: It’s hard to tell where a response will come.

Oh, they had their chances tonight. But they faltered, like so other times during this slide. Second inning: Evan Longoria was stranded on third and Desmond Jennings on second. Third: David DeJesus was stranded on third and Longoria on second. Fifth: Jennings struck out with the bases loaded.

More blown chances, more reasons to wonder.

“We’re still in the wild-card situation,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Everybody’s been preaching doom and gloom and from my perspective, it’s been a very tough run right now. However, as we right ourselves, we’re in pretty good position to continue on into the playoffs. I don’t want our guys to go out there and worry about sharp objects.”

What’s next from here? It’s hard to tell. On Tuesday, manager Joe Maddon was right: The Rays need a spark, something organic, something genuine. It may be quirky, crazy, unexpected. But it must be real. And it must happen soon.

That, it seems, could be one of few options to right their path.

The Rays entered this series knowing what was at stake. Before Tuesday, the American League East title appeared out of reach. But there was still postseason positioning to play for. There was still a goal: The second wild card spot, a chance to hold on to their advantage.

Reach the postseason and take your chances. Punch a ticket to October, and who knows what can happen from there?

For the Rays to reach next month, they can’t have many more nights like Wednesday. Or ever again. Red Sox right-hander Ryan Dempster was vulnerable. He allowed one run and four hits in five innings, but those numbers could have been more.

The hard facts: Tampa Bay is 3-10 since Aug. 29 and a major-league-worst 4-13 since Aug. 25. That doesn’t look good, no matter how you slice it.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Rays. They have one more game against the Red Sox, four against the Texas Rangers, four against the Orioles and three against the Yankees as part of their 18 games to come.

Can they snap out of this? Yes.

How will it happen? That’s the biggest question now.

This stadium has hosted so much good baseball throughout the past four months. It’s startling to see the scene turn so quickly, the mood switch so fast.

After James Loney lined out to right field to end the night, the remaining Red Sox fans roared. Rays players turned and walked slowly away from the field, away from another loss.

By the end, they had seen enough.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.