ST. PETERSBURG -- If the Rays aren't in the midst of a meltdown, appearances certainly suggested otherwise Monday night when mistakes -- mental and physical -- were part of the equation and tempers flared in a 5-2 loss to the Red Sox.
A sparse Tropicana Field crowd of 11,727 watched the Rays continue to struggle offensively, getting just five hits, as their tailspin continued. The club left its last homestand one game out of a postseason berth, since then the Rays have been outscored 35-21 by their opponents.
The idle Yankees increased their lead in the American League East to 5 1/2 games over the third-place Rays (78-69), while Tampa Bay fell to five games behind the Orioles for the second spot in the AL Wild Card race.
Manager Joe Maddon maintained that a lot of misinterpretations can be made about a team when it's not hitting.
"The big thing is it looks [like a lack of intensity]," Maddon said. "But when you're not hitting, it always gives that appearance that you don't care, that there's not intensity. That's not true. We're just not hitting, we're not hitting the ball hard. We're not making hard contact.
"But this has been ongoing with us the past week and this entire season where we've had a really hard time with consistent hard contact. It's just not there."
Monday night's game began on a high note for the Rays. Alex Cobb cruised through the first five innings, holding the Red Sox scoreless and without a hit.
Of course, following a familiar script, the Rays did not have a run at that juncture either.
However, they finally got something going in the bottom of the fifth when Luke Scott singled to lead off the inning. One out later, Carlos Pena added a single to put runners at the corners.
Ryan Roberts put down a sacrifice bunt toward first that James Loney fielded cleanly and threw home, but catcher Ryan Lavarnway dropped the ball and Scott slid in safely to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately, the possibility to score more went south when Lavarnway threw out Pena trying to steal third with Jose Molina at the plate. Maddon explained that the hit-and-run was on and Molina did not swing.
"Carlos did everything right," Maddon said.
Had the Rays not been in such a hitting malaise, Maddon said the inning would not have been played the way the Rays went about it.
"That whole inning we were trying to generate [offense]," Maddon said. "We finally did get something going. Everything started to get going there a little bit. The fact that he gets thrown out on a no-swing hit-and-run, that's the one that ..."
Maddon's voice trailed momentarily before regaining conviction.
"But I was willing to take that chance, because we have not been doing anything regardless, so I'm willing to take chances," Maddon said.
That play seemed to drain some of the energy that had been created by Cobb's pitching and taking a 1-0 lead.
Cobb struck out Scott Podsednik to start the sixth and then hit Jose Iglesias. One out later, a wild pitch by Cobb allowed Iglesias to reach third. Jacoby Ellsbury followed with his fourth home run of the season that cleared the wall in right for the Red Sox's first hit and a 2-1 lead.
"It looked like, for five innings, we didn't even have any gas in our tank and then it seemed like Iggy ignited us a little there and Ells took a lot of time in between pitches and got a 3-1 pitch and gave us the lead," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said.
Dustin Pedroia then walked and stole second before advancing to third on a passed ball by Molina. Cody Ross struck out to end the inning, but in the dugout after the inning, Cobb could be seen barking at Molina before pitching coach Jim Hickey stepped in between them.
Both players returned to the field to start the sixth when Cobb allowed a single and a walk to start the inning. Maddon then called to the bullpen. During the ensuing departure meeting on the mound, Molina could be seen giving Cobb a pat on his backside before he exited the game.
Burke Badenhop entered the game and got the prescribed ground ball from Lavarnway, but shortstop Ben Zobrist could not handle the ball and Boston had the bases loaded with no outs. J.P. Howell took over for Badenhop and surrendered a two-run single to pinch-hitter Mauro Gomez. Ellsbury added an RBI single to push the lead to 5-1.
Cobb took his ninth loss of the season, but Maddon allowed that the right-hander deserved a better fate.
"He's going to get a loss for that game tonight, but you look how well he pitched tonight," Maddon said. "It's the same old refrain. We have to do better offensively. We're running out of time to do that."
Zobrist grounded out in the ninth to drive home B.J. Upton to equal the final score.
Upton, who got half of the Rays' six hits, couldn't put a handle on the team's funk.
"Man, I got nothing," Upton said. "You can call it what you want, it's just not happening. I don't really know what to say about it. We're just not winning -- bottom line."
Ever the optimist, Maddon managed a few smiles after the game.
"The moment we start hitting the ball you're going to see guys looking like the Flying Wallendas again," said Maddon.
Unfortunately for the Rays, time is running out and the circus is about to leave town.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.