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TB@LAA: Keppinger goes yard to put Rays on the board

ANAHEIM -- Alex Cobb had a quality start, Rays hitters went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position -- leaving six runners on base -- and the Rays lost 3-1 to the Angels.

Sound familiar?

"It's the same story," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We just have to do better offensively. We have opportunities, they're out there. Overall, we're playing a good game of baseball. We're just not hitting."

With the loss, the Rays dropped to 51-49 on the season, 9 1/2 games behind the American League East-leading Yankees. They are 2-2 on the current three-stop road trip.

Jeff Keppinger homered to account for the Rays' lone run and he added a single and a double to fall a triple short of the cycle. He is now hitting .330 for the season.

"Theoretically, he was supposed to be more of a role player," Maddon said. "And he's definitely moved well beyond that. When there are people in scoring position, you want him to hit, because you know he's going to have a good at-bat.

"You know he's probably going to move the baseball. And that's very attractive, because we have a tendency to not move the ball often enough with people in scoring position. To this point this year, I have really appreciated his at-bats."

While Maddon can appreciate Keppinger's at-bats, his success speaks volumes about the team's offense, or lack thereof. As Maddon said, Keppinger was supposed to be a role player. Instead he has been the team's best offensive player.

"It does illustrate what's going on, because we do need to get more out of the guys we definitely need to produce," Maddon said. "We just have to. In order to get to where we want to go, it has to happen."

The Rays' best chance to get back into the game came in the seventh, with the Rays trailing 3-1. Keppinger's double to right off Dan Haren started the inning. Carlos Pena then walked to put two aboard with no outs.

But Angels manager Mike Scioscia made the right call by bringing in Kevin Jepsen to take over for Haren. He retired Ryan Roberts and Jose Lobaton on flyouts to right before striking out Elliot Johnson to end the threat.

"You have to be able to control the other team and we did a good job on the mound today," Scioscia said. "Our bullpen came up big. You want to keep pressuring them, hopefully a little more. We bunched some hits and were fortunate tonight."

Most of the hits the Angels bunched came in the early going.

Cobb appeared headed down a bad road in the first inning when he surrendered consecutive base hits to Torii Hunter and Albert Pujols to put runners on the corners with one out.

But Mark Trumbo grounded to second baseman Ben Zobrist, who raced to the bag, then threw to first to complete the inning-ending double-play. When Keppinger homered in the second to build on Cobb's first-inning escape, the Rays appeared to be living right.

But the good vibe went away in the bottom of the third. Rookie sensation Mike Trout got the rally started with a single through the middle. Hunter then pushed a bunt to the third-base side of the infield to put two aboard for Pujols, who ripped a drive to left field.

Sam Fuld gave chase and made a diving attempt that just escaped his glove, morphing from the third out into a two-run double in an instant. Trumbo singled home another to put the Angels up 3-1.

"Probably about as close as you can get without catching it," Fuld said. "I don't think I would have done anything differently. It just went off the tip of my glove. If I had a 13 inch [glove] instead of a 12 3/4 inch, I probably would have caught it."

Three runs were all the Angels could muster against Cobb, who pitched seven innings. But the Rays could not overcome that outburst, so the right-hander took his eighth loss of the season.

"Even thinking back on that inning, I'm not too angry about any of the pitches I made," Cobb said. "Albert hit a good pitch. You know, that's what he does. The only thing I am mad about was getting behind Trout. I got a first-pitch strike and I need to keep attacking him. I started dancing around the strike zone a little bit and he got into a hitter's count and put the ball in play."

Even as listless as the Rays' offense appeared Friday night, who knows what might have happened had Fuld managed to make the catch of Pujols' double.

"We talk about it a lot, the game is a game of inches," Fuld said. "But tonight is a pretty good example of that."

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