ST. PETERSBURG -- One play, one moment at a critical time gone bad. That's the way it's gone for the Rays lately. And that's the way it went down again Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, as Miami held off Tampa Bay, 5-4.
The Rays have lost nine consecutive games while falling to 23-37, their worst record after 60 games under manager Joe Maddon. The Rays are 14 games under the .500 mark, their most since the 2007 season, when they finished 66-96.
Trailing 5-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth, an emotional Rays team, saddened by the news of Don Zimmer's death, started what appeared like a winning rally.
Yunel Escobar reached on an error by Marlins third baseman Ed Lucas, and Kevin Kiermaier followed with a double that he bounced over first baseman Garrett Jones' head to put two runners in scoring position.
Marlins closer Steve Cishek then walked Jose Molina on five pitches to load the bases.
"It was one of those things where I was glad to see that ball get over his head and give us runners in scoring position with no outs," Kiermaier said. "Josey draws a good walk. Bases loaded, no outs. I liked our chances right there."
David DeJesus grounded out to Jones, who flipped to Cishek for the first out while Escobar scored to cut the lead to 5-4.
Then came that one play.
Ben Zobrist hit a high chopper to first and the speedy Kiermaier did not score from third.
"We all know the game came down to my baserunning mistake at third base," Kiermaier said. "I saw Jones playing in at first base. It was one those things, a high chopper -- I have to read that. And I have to score right there. Zobrist did what he had to do to put the ball in play, and I didn't capitalize."
Maddon did not point a finger at Kiermaier for not scoring on the play, noting that the rookie was "reading that," and that something told him not to go. However the Rays' manager did add: "I thought there might have been a chance for him to score there."
Evan Longoria was intentionally walked to load the bases for James Loney. But Loney, who entered the game with the highest batting average in the Major Leagues after the seventh inning (since the beginning of 2013), popped out to second base to end the game.
"It came down to the end," Maddon said. "We had the right guys up in the right situation. We were rallying. We had every opportunity. We're running out of time. We just can't let those games get away any more."
After the Marlins took a 1-0 lead in their first at-bat, the Rays answered in the bottom half of the inning on a two-run homer by Zobrist, followed by a solo shot by Longoria to the 162 Landing section. The back-to-back home runs were the Rays' first since Desmond Jennings and Loney turned the trick on May 26 in Toronto.
The three runs scored in the first exceeded the Rays' offensive output from the previous four games.
Unfortunately for the struggling club, the lead did not last.
David Price got into trouble in the third when the Marlins had runners at second and third with two outs. Jeff Baker grounded to third and Longoria made the grab, but the ball came loose when he tried to tag out Marcell Ozuna for the third out. Giancarlo Stanton scored on the play. Donovan Solano then homered to left to put the Marlins up 5-3.
"I'm trying to get it in the middle of the field -- I just wanted to get a base hit to bring in that run," Solano said. "You've got to put a swing on that curveball he threw me in the last at-bat. The first at-bat, he threw it to me on the last pitch and got a strikeout, so it was reaction. I try to get ready for any pitch -- I try to get ready for the fastball, and just react to that pitch."
Price allowed one earned run on nine hits and no walks while striking out 11 in 7 1/3 innings, but he came away with his fifth loss of the season. The Rays have lost their last four games when receiving a quality start, after starting the season 16-1 when they got a quality start.
A night after the Rays hit into three double plays to aid Henderson Alvarez's 88-pitch shutout, they hit into another three. During the losing streak, the Rays are 5-for-53 with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-their-last 31.
Maddon did not know if Zimmer's death affected his team's play in any way.
"I don't know to what extent the information of Zim's passing had infiltrated the whole dugout," Maddon said. "I had spoken to the coaches. Again, in his honor, he would not have had it any other way than for us to go out there and attempt to win."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.