HOUSTON — In a season that continues to slide away, the Tampa Bay Rays need something, anything, to gain some sort of a foothold on to start a climb from the basement.
But finding momentum lately has proved to be a climb up a mountainside following a tropical rain that drenches the road. At every step, there is the chance to slip and fall.
The latest slip-up came during the third inning of Saturday’s 7-3 loss to Houston in front of an announced crowd of 26,264 at Minute Maid Park in which the Astros scored five unearned runs on only two hits, with all the runs coming with two outs off Rays starter Chris Archer (3-4).
After stringing together back-to-back wins for the first time since mid-May, Tampa Bay (26-43) lost for the 15th time in 18 games overall, and for the 11th time in the past 12 road games.
“I think today was a rough game. We didn’t do a whole lot of things well,” said third baseman Evan Longoria, who drove in all three Rays runs, including two on his eighth homer. “But I feel like we are heading in the right direction. It has been tough over the course of this season to really get anything going over the course of an extended period of time.”
The chance to build momentum appeared to be aligned for the Rays. Longoria provided an early lead with an RBI single in the top of the first, providing Archer — who had been on a roll, allowing three runs total in his previous five starts — some early support.
After breezing through the first two innings, Archer ran into trouble in the bottom of the third.
With two outs and Marwin Gonzalez on third, Dexter Fowler grounded to first baseman James Loney for what should have been the final out. But the throw was a tad behind Archer, who had the ball hit the heel of his glove and bounce out, allowing the run to score and the inning to continue.
Archer then hit George Springer and walked Jon Singleton and Jason Castro back-to-back to give Houston a 2-1 lead. Matt Dominguez then drilled a hanging slider off the wall in left field to clear the bases and give the Astros a 5-1 advantage.
“I feel like I should have made better pitches in the third inning when I had two outs ... period,” Archer said. “It didn’t have anything to do with me not making the play at first base. Yes I was frustrated, but there are a ton of plays in a game. There were 30 or 40 pitches after that that I could have executed. ... I didn’t make pitches. It had nothing to do with the rest of the team. We played good enough to win. I just had one-third of an inning where I didn’t do my job.’’
After starting the fourth by issuing his third walk, manager Joe Maddon came to the mound to replace Archer, who had his shortest outing of the season.
“He was just never comfortable. Just an uncomfortable day for him,” Maddon said. “Even after they scored the one run on the mishap at first base, if they just score the run and then let’s shut it down with two outs. Then they compounded it and that was really the downfall right there.”
Now the Rays look to try to get back on their feet one more time with ace David Price taking the mound this afternoon in the rubber match of the three-game series as the Rays look to gain a new foothold.
“We can find (momentum) by winning the series. That’s the one thing we have to start doing is win more series,’’ Maddon said. “We have the chance to win a series and to me that would be garnering momentum if we win a series.”
That would at least be something to grab on to.
“The goal has to be just win series,’’ Longoria said. “And we have a chance to win the series (today). And if we can continue to do that for the rest of the year, then I like our chances.’’