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07/25/08 12:30 PM ET

Bats, Garza endure off night in KC

Shortstop Bartlett comes off DL with three hits in his return

KANSAS CITY -- The word around the dugout each time someone came back from an at-bat was almost always the same.

They missed pitches.

Sure, Gil Meche threw well. But more than anything, Jason Bartlett knows his teammates kicked themselves too often by not capitalizing on Meche's mistakes in the Rays' 4-2 loss.

"It's never fun when you get a good pitch to hit and you can't hit it," Bartlett said.

That's how it went Thursday night against Meche and the Royals' cast of relievers. Bartlett, in his first game off the disabled list, had three hits, but the rest of his teammates combined for just five and couldn't string them together well enough to start a true rally. Add the fact that starter Matt Garza never felt comfortable, and you can see why this was an easy defeat.

Making it worse, the loss came on the road. In case you're not keeping track, the Rays have now lost seven in a row away from the Trop, the previous six coming before the All-Star break. The offense has put up just 10 runs in this string of seven losses.

"I think everybody is trying to get it done all at once," manager Joe Maddon said. "More than anything I'd just like to see us get back to our line-drive approach."

Early on, the offense seemed primed to shine. Meche clearly didn't have his best stuff in the first. He labored with his breaking ball and fastball, and the Rays continually fouled off his good pitches. Evan Longoria forced 11 pitches in his first-inning at-bat with Meche, who threw a total of 31 in the inning.

He was ripe for an offensive blow. Problem was, the Rays couldn't supply it. Despite throwing all those pitches, only Longoria and Carl Crawford got on base in the first. Meche gave up two more singles in the second, but again, the Rays didn't capitalize.

After that, he settled down. Meche went seven shutout innings, throwing just 37 pitches in the fifth, sixth and seventh combined.

"We had a chance to get Meche early, and let him escape," Maddon said. "Then, he started to pitch better and that was our mistake."

Maddon called Garza out of sync. Garza said he felt more like he was out of whack. This much is certain -- Garza wasn't at his best.

In his last start, he threw 7 2/3 innings of scoreless ball. Garza didn't feel right from the start of this one. He felt like he had no juice on his fastball and that affected the rest of his pitches and his timing.

The Royals scored on him once in the first and three more times in the fourth. The crushing blow came on John Buck's two-run double.

Garza couldn't think of any reason as to why he didn't feel right. "It just felt weird," Garza told Maddon after the fifth inning. Maddon thus took Garza out, even though he'd thrown only 82 pitches and nothing felt wrong physically.

Garza was still in a light mood in the locker room afterwards.

"It's a great game when you can go lights out for one outing, and five days later not even know where the strike zone is," Garza said.

J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler each pitched an inning of scoreless relief after Garza exited. Garza didn't think the pitchers felt any added pressure, knowing that the offense was in a funk.

"We know these guys will come around when we need them to," Garza said.

One consolation is that Tampa Bay is still in first place as of Thursday night, albeit by a supermodel-thin margin. The Rays have a .584 winning percentage. The Red Sox are at .583 in second.

Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.