Lack of timely hits sank Tampa Bay vs. Texas

Lack of timely hits sank Tampa Bay vs. Texas

Lack of timely hits sank Tampa Bay vs. Texas
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays' remarkable late-season run came to an end on Tuesday after their offense went into an early hiberation as the American League Division Series returned to Florida for Games 3 and 4.

Tampa Bay's bats began the series on fire with 15 runs in its first two games, but the club managed to put just six players across home plate at Tropicana Field.

The lack of production haunted the Rays' eighth-ranked offense all season and ultimately led to their downfall in the best-of-five ALDS.

"It just seemed that Texas definitely had our number," designated hitter Johnny Damon said. "[It] just seemed like they were hitting their spots, going in and out, up and down.

"They weren't leaving too much stuff out over the middle of the plate, and that's why they were successful and they've been able to shut us down these past couple of games."

Most of the problems will be traced back to a lack of effectiveness by the club's Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters, who went a combined 1-for-20 with 11 strikeouts in Games 3 and 4.

Center fielder B.J. Upton and third baseman Evan Longoria combined to go 0-for-13 with nine strikeouts in the final two contests after going 7-for-18 in Texas.

Upton wasn't about to make any excuses for his disappointing finish. After suffering a 4-3 loss to the Rangers in the series finale on Tuesday afternoon, he went out of his way to take more than his fair share of the blame.

"I didn't show up when I needed to and I needed to show up today, and I didn't produce," said Upton, who finished the series hitting 4-for-14. "I think that's what's kind of weighing on me right now. When my team needed me, if you keep your [Nos.] 2-3 hitters off the bases, obviously it's going to be tough to win.

"I just didn't get it done. I think if I get it done, it kind of trickles down to Longo, and I just couldn't get anything going for us."

Upton and Longoria might have struggled at the tail end of the series, but they were also two players who were largely responsible for getting the Rays into the playoffs in the first place.

The 27-year-old Upton hit .333 in September to help propel a late-season comeback to overtake the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card.

Longoria, meanwhile, almost single-handedly secured Tampa Bay's berth into the postseason with two dramatic home runs on the club's final day of the regular season.

"I don't know if there's anything myself or anybody in this clubhouse has to hang their head about," said Longoria, who struck out eight times in 16 ALDS at-bats. "I think that we all did our preparation and we all went out there as ready as we could be. It's just sometimes you get beat, and it's obviously not the stage you want to get beat on."

Things looked like they were heading in a much different direction for the Rays earlier in the ALDS. Tampa Bay easily took Game 1 in Texas, 9-0, and then came out strong again the following day and secured a three-run lead early in Game 2.

That's when things started to unravel, as right-hander James Shields surrendered five runs in the fourth on three singles, two hit batters and a pair of wild pitches. The momentum seemed to shift, and even though the club almost found a way to battle back in that 8-6 loss, it ultimately came up short.

The Rays then lost a pair of one-run ballgames and were dominated by a deep Texas pitching staff. Their problems were compounded by the 13 men left on base and being able to hit just 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position during the final two games.

Tampa Bay's inability to score runs shouldn't have come as a major surprise. The club scored just 707 runs and hit .244 this season, which ranked the worst among the eight teams which qualified for the postseason.

But that won't ease the pain from losing the ALDS to Texas. The Rays had control early in the series and never envisioned having it slip away so quickly.

"We definitely didn't see ourselves exiting this early," Upton said. "I think we definitely saw it going back to Texas at least. We really didn't feel like they could beat us twice at home, but you have tip your caps to them.

"They pitched well and never really let us get anything going. You just have to move on."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.