ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Joe Maddon anticipated something new for Saturday night, something soothing and familiar.
Would you believe … a winning streak?
“I really thought all the arrows were pointed in the right direction,'' Maddon said.
Instead, after a 7-4 defeat against the Seattle Mariners, when starter Alex Cobb was pounded and the offense offered little support, the Rays had to endure a familiar-looking ritual from a painful vantage point.
It was Mariners closer Fernando Rodney working a perfect ninth inning, then looking toward the roof of Tropicana Field to shoot his imaginary arrow skyward as 23,996 fans grimaced.
One night after ending a 10-game losing streak, the Rays were back to 15 games below .500 with the major league's worst record (24-39). Now the Rays, after being occasionally picked in the preseason as the American League's World Series representative, have a new challenge.
Day by day, Maddon wants them to gain on reaching the break-even mark. It won't happen quickly. And it probably would take a magnificent summer to put the Rays back into realistic postseason contention by Labor Day.
Considering the lack of consistent pitching and the often non-existent offense, even a short-term goal of .500 looks daunting.
“We've got to start winning series more than anything,'' Maddon said. “That's how we get back into this thing.''
When the Rays took a 2-1 lead into the fourth inning – thanks to James Loney's solo home run and Ali Solis' RBI sacrifice bunt in the second – all seemed well. But Cobb couldn't make it stand up.
He allowed two runs in the fourth, putting the Rays behind 3-2, then four more in the fifth, when Dustin Ackley's three-run double broke it open. Cobb worked to 0-and-2 on Ackley, who promptly whacked the next offering, a curveball, to right center.
“That's a pitch that's going to haunt me for a little while,'' said Cobb, who allowed seven earned runs and 10 hits on 72 pitches in 4 1/3 innings. “I knew I needed to bear down really hard right there with the bases loaded and not let the damage get any deeper than it already was.
“I had him 0-2, and that's all you can ask for right there. I tried to bury a curveball, and left it right in his swing path. That's exactly where he wants the ball. That's definitely a pitch that's going to be replayed in my mind over and over.''
For Cobb, it was his shortest stint since June 15, 2013 against the Kansas City Royals – the game when he was struck in the head by a line drive. The seven earned runs were one off his career-high (twice, last time Aug. 18, 2012).
After going three straight starts without allowing a run – April 6 to May 22 with a gap on the disabled list – Cobb has a 9.98 ERA in his past three starts.
“There's no better feeling in the world than walking off the mound having done your job and giving your team a chance to win,'' Cobb said. “And there's no worse feeling in the world than walking off the mound and giving your team absolutely no chance to win the game.
“When things are going tough, I never want to feel like this. The quickest way to do it is to turn it around next outing.''
It will require a collective effort, though.
The Rays managed just five hits, drawing a bit closer on Evan Longoria's two-run homer in the eighth, but that wasn't nearly enough.
“We are a good ballclub and we are capable of putting it together,'' Maddon said. “That's the truth. We just need to concentrate on the next game and we need to start doing it.''
Until then, all the arrows are seemingly pointed downward and the feeling is piercing.