Unlike the previous three contests, when Tampa Bay overcame one-run deficits in the penultimate frame, the Rays were unable to score late when they needed it most and went on to lose, 4-3, to the White Sox on Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
The Rays had come from behind in the eighth in three games over the weekend in Kansas City, sweeping the Royals to move a season-high 10 games over .500.
On Monday, however, Tampa Bay's well of prosperity dried up despite furious rally attempts in both the eighth and ninth innings.
In the eighth, the Rays (51-42) had runners at first and second with one out and Carl Crawford at the plate against White Sox reliever Matt Thornton. The Rays, known for manufacturing runs on the bases, gambled, having Jason Bartlett attempt to steal third.
He promptly was thrown out by White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who threw out two runners in a game for the first time since July 20, 2008.
"I know J.B. did not get a good jump, and obviously that was a big play, but we've been winning a lot of games because we are willing to take chances," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We just messed that one up -- that's all. But I don't want our guys to stop taking risks based on one or two negative things that may occur."
The importance of Bartlett's out became even more heightened when Crawford singled to left, a hit that likely would have scored Bartlett easily to tie the game at 4.
"I thought I had a big enough lead and I thought he was slow enough," Bartlett said of Thornton's delivery. "I don't know if he sped up maybe just that pitch. But I was out by a lot.
"It [stinks] and all, but I want to stay aggressive in that situation."
The Rays continued to fight until the end, making the contest interesting by producing yet another mini-rally in the ninth. White Sox closer Bobby Jenks struck out the first two hitters he faced before Pat Burrell drew a walk and Willy Aybar singled to left, putting two runners aboard for pinch-hitter Gabe Gross. Jenks then walked Gross to load the bases.
With the sellout crowd of 39,024 on its feet, Bartlett worked the count full before striking out on a Jenks offspeed pitch to end the game.
Despite the defeat, Maddon praised his ballclub for never backing down.
"What a really intense baseball game," Maddon said. "Of course we wanted to win it, but ... I liked our intensity. I like the way we're going after things right now. I can't ask for anything more from our group."
Rays starter David Price, making his first start in 11 days thanks to the All-Star break, walked Scott Podsednik to lead off the game. Podsednik stole second and advanced to third on catcher Michel Hernandez's throwing error, which skipped into center field. Jermaine Dye then ripped a one-out single off the glove of Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, plating Podsednik for a 1-0 White Sox lead.
Tampa Bay snared that run back in the top of the second when Ben Zobrist launched a solo home run to right field off White Sox starter Gavin Floyd (8-6). It was Zobrist's 18th homer this season.
But in the bottom of the third, Price served up a costly long ball to veteran Paul Konerko. Podsednik led off the inning by doubling to right-center field. Alexei Ramirez followed with a single to right, moving Podsednik to third with no outs. That brought a visit from Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey to talk things over.
Two batters later, Price surrendered a three-run home run to Konerko, moving the White Sox (48-44) in front, 4-1.
"I went back and watched it," Price said. "I thought it was a good pitch, but that's what good hitters do. They hit good pitches -- and that's what he did."
Price (3-4), who lasted six innings and allowed four runs on eight hits while striking out six and walking two, was not the least bit pleased with his performance.
"Losing is the worst," he said. "I don't care. I'm not satisfied with this. I don't want to even take this as progress. Six innings and four runs is unacceptable for me."
The Rays plated two runs after Konerko's blast, both on solo home runs. The speedy Crawford tallied an inside-the-park homer off the center-field wall in the fourth, and Longoria belted his 19th dinger of the season in the sixth.
Those runs set up a familiar framework for Tampa Bay to produce yet another splendid comeback on the road. Only this time, the Rays' magic formula vanished into the Chicago night.
Jesse Temple is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less