NEW YORK -- Entering Tuesday night's game against the Yankees, the Rays understood their prospects for reaching the playoffs had diminished to minuscule proportions.
Still, there was hope. Even if the Twins had to lose all of their games and the Rays had to win out -- along with other scenarios clicking into place. Instead, the hammer fell in a resounding 6-1 loss to the Yanks, which officially ended the Rays' postseason hopes.
"Obviously frustrated," manager Kevin Cash said. "frustrated for the guys."
The high-water mark came on July 18 in Oakland when a 4-3 win over the A's put the Rays at seven games over .500. At that point, they were two games out of first place, and the idea of winning the American League East held a place in the minds of fans and players. Reaching the playoffs seemed like a foregone conclusion. But the Rays followed with five consecutive losses and that turned into a 2-8 stretch, leaving the team at 53-52.
Within that stretch came a particularly tough loss against the Yankees on July 27 at Yankee Stadium, of which Cash allowed, "There's been a handful of losses that are going to sting throughout the offseason."
The Rays lost that one on a walk-off home run by Brett Gardner, but they should have won the game in nine innings, except shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and second baseman Tim Beckham got crossed up on a ground ball with two out in the ninth. Rather than either fielding the ball, both backed off the play. The ground ball turned into an RBI single that sent the game into extra innings.
Getting eliminated after being in the hunt made things more frustrating from Cash's point of view.
"I think that's very fair," Cash said. "Look at where we were at going into the break. Just came off a really big series. Three out of four against Boston put us within two and up in the Wild Card ... and then kind of fell apart.
"We fell apart a little bit offensively, we just couldn't get anything going. We had some opportunities and we couldn't capitalize, we just watched. It was kind of a slow death, which was not fun. And frustrating to a lot of the guys."
Wilson Ramos added some perspective inside the Rays' clubhouse.
"Nobody wants to be eliminated," Ramos said. "But I'm so excited about this team, the way we play this year. ... To me we will get experience from this year, and next year will be better."
The Rays are 76-81. If they win their final five games, they will finish at .500, which would establish the club's best record in Cash's three years.
Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.