The Rays already had to come to terms with the reality of missing out on the playoffs this season. Logan Forsythe said after Friday's 4-3 loss to the White Sox at Tropicana Field that nobody in the home clubhouse even thought about whether they were mathematically alive in the postseason race.
But the Rays' 80th loss made it official: They're out of the playoff picture, and a seventh straight winning season seems all but impossible.
"Very strange. It's no fun," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We expect to be there on an annual basis regardless of whatever anybody wants to talk about, financial restrictions, whatever. To me, that's never mattered and it's never going to matter. We had that opportunity this year.
"The group of people that we have is very capable of playing in the postseason. We shot ourselves in the foot, in the thigh, possibly in the biceps. We just kept beating ourselves up."
In that regard, the way the Rays lost Friday's game before a crowd of 17,540 was fitting. Tampa Bay jumped out to a three-run lead in the third inning and wasted it away in the fifth, unable to mount a comeback against White Sox lefty Jose Quintana and Chicago's bullpen.
The Rays have held a lead in 13 straight games and won only seven. In seven of those games, six of them losses, they've failed to hold leads of 4-0 (three times), 3-0 (twice), 2-0 and 1-0. Now, they would have to win out to finish above .500.
"It's been a very difficult year from that perspective. You take away that awful (1-14) stretch which we had, we've played pretty good since the break," Maddon said. "The guys are still fighting. We put ourselves in a significant hole, and it's been really hard to dig out. ... It was a really significant moment that we put ourselves into, and that's pretty much it."
Forsythe drove in the Rays' three runs, plating Evan Longoria and Wil Myers on a line-drive double to left-center field in the first inning and smashing a solo homer, his sixth, to left in the third inning.
But Quintana bounced back after his shaky start, allowing three runs (one earned) on nine hits over 7 1/3 innings.
"I started a little bit badly with the two runs in the first inning," Quintana said. "But I tried to keep going in the game and tried to throw my best stuff and get a win."
And right-hander Jeremy Hellickson couldn't hold the lead for long. Chicago's first six batters of the fifth inning reached base safely, one on a leadoff walk and another on a fielder's choice. Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu hit back-to-back RBI singles, and Avisail Garcia made it a four-run inning with a double to left.
Just like that, the Rays' lead -- and Hellickson's chance for a win -- evaporated. Hellickson, who allowed four runs in 4 1/3 innings, has gone 12 starts at Tropicana Field without a victory, and the Rays have lost his last eight starts overall.
"It's just happened so many times this year, guys give me a three- or four-run lead, I throw four or five scoreless and the next inning I just lose it," Hellickson said. "I made a few mistakes after the walk and just couldn't make a big pitch to get out of that and keep the lead."
Hellickson is hardly acquainted with the feeling of playing games with no postseason implications -- he's only been a part of two with the Rays -- but he admitted it's "definitely no fun to come to the park and play and know you're not going to be playing in October."
As Maddon said, the Rays expect to play meaningful games right up until the end every year, and that's certainly true for 2015 as well. Now, all that's left for the Rays in 2014 is these eight games as they try to build toward the future.
"I think that's everybody's mentality. We know where we stand and we're working toward what we need to work on this offseason and take it into Spring Training," Forsythe said. "We're just going to try to finish strong."