"We don't hit well against these guys, that's been going on for a couple years now," Rays manager Joe Maddon said about the series. "Overall, we've done a decent job keeping them in check, we just haven't scored enough runs."
Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb lost for the fifth time in his last six starts after allowing five runs -- four earned -- on eight hits, two walks and a hit batter in 5 1/3 innings of work, with three strikeouts.
Tigers starting pitcher Drew Smyly, meanwhile, looked strong early on and finished five innings of three-run baseball, with four strikeouts and three hits.
"I've been getting beat by the big inning, and I got myself in the jam in the fifth, but I thought I was able to work out of it," Smyly said. "It was just a great team win. I only went five innings, but our bullpen did an absolutely tremendous job."
While the pitching has been solid and the defense improved, offensive woes continue to haunt Tampa Bay. Just once in the club's last nine games has it scored five or more runs, and the team is batting .201 in that stretch.
The top of the Rays' lineup continued its struggles in particular. The players who started in the top four slots in the order -- Desmond Jennings, Sean Rodriguez, B.J. Upton and Jeff Keppinger -- combined to go 0-for-13 with a walk, sacrifice fly and five strikeouts.
"We're in every game, we just have to hit better," Maddon said. "At some point you have to cover your mistakes a little bit with your offense, we just have not been able to do that. We're all about pitching and defense, and I'm totally behind that, but we've got to move the ball better in certain situations and score some runs with a little more consistency."
Tampa Bay struck in the first, beginning with a leadoff walk drawn by Jennings. With Rodriguez batting, Jennings stole second before Rodriguez popped out to the catcher. Following a wild pitch from Smyly, Upton was able to bring in the speedy Jennings on a sacrifice fly to center to give the Rays the early lead.
"That was all him, that was a great play on his part," Maddon said of Jennings' baserunning. "He looked like he was running pretty good right there, and that's good to see. He looks like he's starting to get his game back together."
Detroit responded in the top of the fourth, as a single by Alex Avila loaded the bases with no outs. Ryan Raburn notched another to bring in Prince Fielder and tie the game.
The Tigers couldn't add any more, though. Don Kelly hit a grounder to first, and Keppinger elected to throw it home for a force out to save a run. Cobb then struck out Ramon Santiago before forcing Austin Jackson to ground into a fielder's choice.
But Detroit got its chance again in the next inning when it again loaded the bases with no outs. Young hit a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Quintin Berry to give the Tigers the lead. Avila followed it with another sac fly to right that scored Miguel Cabrera.
"I probably threw a couple pitches in the wrong counts," Cobb said. "Maybe being too consistent with the same hitters a couple times through the lineup, and they had a good idea what they wanted to do with their approach in the next at-bat. They got the pitch they wanted to hit."
Smyly dominated the Rays for four innings, but was finally broken in the bottom of the fifth, as Ben Zobrist led off with a double. Conrad advanced him on a groundout before a Hideki Matsui single pulled the Rays to within one. Jose Molina followed by cranking a double that cleared a diving Kelly in right field, scoring Matsui and evening the score.
The tie was short-lived however, as the Tigers scored again in the sixth. Kelly hit a leadoff double, and Santiago bunted him over to third. A single by Jackson made the score 4-3. After an intentional walk to Cabrera, Fielder hit his second single of the game, scoring Jackson.
Despite the rough stretch, Zobrist believes his team -- citing the struggles the AL Champion 2008 team experienced -- has what it takes to get back to its winning ways.
"We're gonna back each other up, and keep playing hard and let things fall where they may," Zobrist said.