Not so long ago, having a record over .500 would have been a reason to hold a parade down Central Avenue. But the expectations for the 2012 season were so much higher.
"We just have to do better, it's upon us, we have to do better, we can't make the mistakes that are causing us to lose games, but I will defend our effort, I will defend our work and how much our guys care," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "At the end of the day that matters to me most."
The Rays led 4-0 after four innings, but that lead had been whittled to 4-3 by the time Kyle Farnsworth took over for Jeremy Hellickson to start the seventh.
The veteran right-hander quickly got the first two outs of the inning before Shin-Soo Choo's grounder wormed its way under first baseman Carlos Pena's glove for a suspect single.
The floodgates then opened.
Asdrubal Cabrera singled to put runners at first and third, chasing Farnsworth in the process. Jake McGee entered the game to face Jason Kipnis and he got ahead in the count 1-2 when he threw what he appeared to be strike three. A strikeout would have ended the inning. Instead, homeplate umpire Dan Iassogna called it ball two.
"I thought it was a strike," McGee said. "It was one of those pitches when you throw it, the majority of the time they call it a strike and you almost want to walk off the mound. And he didn't call it. And I was kind of shocked a little bit. But I didn't want to say anything to the umpire -- make him mad and I wouldn't get other pitches -- so I just tried to make better pitches of the at-bat."
Kipnis fouled off the next three pitches, then laced a 98-mph fastball through the middle to drive home the tying run.
Kipnis is "a very good hitter," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "It was a good matchup to me, because fastballs. The guy was throwing a lot of fastballs, and he's a good fastball hitter."
Still fuming about Iassogna's call, Maddon made a mound visit that resulted in his receiving his first ejection of the season. Watching their manager head for an early shower did little to inspire the troops.
Michael Brantley's single drove home the go-ahead run before Carlos Santana finished the job with a three-run homer over the center-field wall to put the Indians up 8-4.
"I just can't let it get out of hand after [Kipnis' hit]," McGee said. "The next pitch after that was a one-pitch single. Fell behind and gave up a home run. Have to make better pitches and get ahead."
While Maddon did not minimize the importance of the call that didn't go the Rays' way, he did note that the loss was "about a lot of other things we did not do well.
"Including the ground ball with two outs [against] Farnsworth to Carlos, which they ruled a base hit, which I think is absolutely an error," Maddon said. "There is no way that should be ruled a hit, then how that leads into the rest of the game."
At the outset, the game appeared destined to be one of those nights for the Rays suitable for framing.
Pena made a diving stop of Choo's drive down the line to lead off the game and flipped to Hellickson covering at first for the out.
Hellickson seemed to have a horseshoe in his back pocket in the second inning. After Brantley tripled down the right-field line to open the inning, Hellickson struck out Santana, then retired Travis Hafner and Johnny Damon on ground outs to end the inning, leaving Brantley stranded on third.
Elliot Johnson had an RBI single and B.J. Upton hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second to put the Rays up 2-0. They padded the lead to four runs in the third via RBI singles by Luke Scott and Desmond Jennings.
The Indians fought back to score three in the fifth, but it wasn't without some help from Hellickson, who made a bad pitch that hit Casey Kotchman with two outs. Jack Hannahan followed with a two-run double, and Choo notched an RBI single to get the Indians back in the game.
After defeating the Indians Tuesday then getting the early lead Wednesday night, the Rays appeared to finally have a chance to get some momentum going their way. A win Wednesday night might have served as such a catalyst, only it didn't happen.
"Seems like sometimes things go our way and sometimes they don't," McGee said. "Baseball's a game of inches. Sometimes it will go your way, sometimes it won't. We just need to get some momentum and win a couple of games in a row and we'll be fine."