ST. PETERSBURG -- Ben Zobrist mishandled a transfer and bobbled the Orioles into a free run. Evan Longoria put his head down and ran Tampa Bay out of a scoring chance. James Loney tried to swing his team into a big inning and only hit air.
The way the Rays have been emphasizing a return to fundamentals over the past few days, Wednesday's loss to the Orioles, 2-0, at Tropicana Field, was exactly what they didn't want.
Nelson Cruz hit his Major League-leading 22nd home run off Kirby Yates and the Rays dropped the rubber game of their series against the Orioles, who have won seven of eight games against the Rays this season. But it was simple plays Tampa Bay didn't make -- not Cruz's blast -- that made the difference.
On Tuesday, the Rays started running pregame Spring Training drills -- bunt defense, turning double plays, fielding fly balls at the wall. The team needed to turn things around sooner, not later, manager Joe Maddon said, and this baseball refresher course was where it would start.
But in dropping the series to Baltimore on Wednesday, the Rays were not sharp enough to win.
Cruz's home run came with Baltimore leading, 1-0, in the eighth inning, but the go-ahead run was an unearned one scratched out against Rays starter Alex Cobb in the fifth. With two outs and nobody on base, Nick Markakis tapped a routine ground ball to second base. Zobrist fielded it but mishandled the transfer, the ball dribbling out of his glove and toward first as Markakis hit the bag safely. The next batter, Steve Pearce, lined a double down the right-field line, scoring Markakis for a 1-0 Baltimore lead.
"Sometimes you make an error and you get the next guy out and nobody says anything about it. Sometimes it costs us," Zobrist said. "And it just seems like this year it's been costing us a little bit more.
"It's a matter of picking each other up, and I didn't do that in the fifth for Alex -- I wish I would have -- and we gave up a run after that."
Cobb finished the game with seven innings pitched, six strikeouts, and one run that never should have scored. But after the game, he said all he wanted to do was pick Zobrist up -- not the other way around.
"You don't want the attention to be thrown on that particular play, and I had all the opportunity in the world to make that a non-issue at the end of the game," Cobb said.
Baltimore added another run in the eighth, with Cobb out of the game, when Cruz hit a shot off a light on one of the Tropicana Field catwalks. It was the second straight day a player hit a home run off a catwalk, with Tampa Bay's Sean Rodriguez doing it in Tuesday's 7-5 Rays loss.
Cobb, who pitched a gem, got no support from his lineup, which squandered its best opportunities.
Loney, for one, was unable to put the ball in play twice with no outs and runners in scoring position. The first time was during the Rays' best scoring chance, which came in the first inning when they loaded the bases with no one out against Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman.
"I was just kind of thinking, 'All right, I'm going to need my best stuff this inning whether I blow out later in the game and get tired. It's big. I've got to throw up a zero right here,'" Gausman said.
And he did. Loney struck out on a changeup that dropped right off the low, outside corner and under his bat. A batter later, Zobrist went down swinging on almost the exact same pitch. Then David DeJesus, after working a long at-bat, fouled out to left field to end the inning.
"We've just got to put the ball in play, Longoria said. "Who knows what happens if we put the ball in play … You just can't strike out. I know nobody's trying to strike out, but we've got to find ways. We've got to find ways to at least move the ball and put the ball in play and just get it to the next guy."
In the sixth inning, Longoria led off with a double, and Loney again came up with no outs in a key situation, with his team trailing by a run. But again, he struck out, not even advancing the runner.
"It's important -- it's also unusual, that he would not put the ball in play in those moments," Maddon said. "They kept throwing the ball in good spots, I thought, versus him. He's been really good at that -- moving the baseball. He's very good at that."
Later in the sixth, Longoria ran the Rays out of the inning when he lost track of the number of outs. Thinking there were two outs when there was only one, he took off on contact on a Zobrist flare into shallow left field, which easily hung up for Pearce. Longoria was easily doubled up.
"We didn't deserve to win. The only guy really that deserved to win was Cobb," Longoria said. "He threw the ball well and gave us a chance, and we didn't reward him by doing very routine things the right way. We've got to do those things or we're not going to win. Simple as that."
David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.