ST. PETERSBURG -- Manny Ramirez wore a Rays uniform the last time the team got swept at Tropicana Field before Wednesday afternoon, when Tampa Bay lost to the White Sox, 4-3, with 13,369 in attendance.
The White Sox's sweep of the three-game series handed the Rays their first sweep of the season and their first sweep at home since April 1-3, 2011, when the Orioles beat them in the first three games of the season. Tampa Bay has lost four of its past five.
In doing so, the Rays have not only appeared weak on offense, but the team's defense has been ineffective. A solo home run by Luke Scott and a two-run homer by Carlos Pena accounted for all of the Rays' runs and two of the team's four hits. And on defense, while Tampa Bay didn't make any errors, it didn't make the stellar plays familiar to the team's normal brand of defense.
"Up until the ninth inning, we had zero runners left on base," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "So we're playing hard. But we're also making mistakes. We're not playing a high level of baseball right now -- too many mistakes on the field, things that we're not used to doing. ... We have to do a better job, whether it's catching the ball or having better at-bats."
Alex Cobb started for the Rays and allowed a run in the first before the White Sox loaded the bases with no outs in the second. The right-hander escaped the jam, getting Adam Dunn to fly out to center field with two outs. Scott then delivered his ninth home run of the season on a 1-0 pitch from Jose Quintana, as Tampa Bay's designated hitter rode the ball the opposite way against the White Sox left-hander, rattling the left-field bleachers with the blast to tie the score at 1.
But the momentum swing that seemed to occur after Cobb's escape and Scott's homer went for naught. Alex Rios doubled to left field with one out in the third and A.J. Pierzynski was then hit by a pitch in the middle of the back. Dayan Viciedo singled home Rios before Pierzynski scored on a sacrifice fly to right, putting the White Sox up, 3-1.
"Whenever you tie or go ahead, you want a quick inning to get the momentum staying in your favor and get the offense back going," Cobb said. "Unfortunately they got a little rally going there in the third, and I wasn't able to get the offense back on the field quick enough. Later in the game, it wound up costing us."
Pierzynski was hit a day after a hard slide into Ben Zobrist in Tuesday night's game. Quintana then threw behind Zobrist in the fourth and was ejected, along with White Sox manager Robin Ventura.
Quintana, through his translator, blamed a mix-up with his catcher for the pitch to Zobrist.
"Quintana was going to throw a fastball. As he was going to throw it, he saw that A.J. had a sign for a changeup," Quintana said through the translator. "Once he was already in the act, instead of crossing over, he ended up throwing it, and that's how it slipped out."
Cobb allowed a career-high nine hits in five innings to take his first loss of the season.
"I felt great," Cobb said. "All my stuff was working really well. My fastball was going in and out, [my] offspeed stuff was good. Unfortunately, they are really aggressive and really hot right now. They found a lot of holes and also hit a lot of balls hard.
"... Last week in Boston, I didn't feel good, and I came away with one run in five innings and got the [win]. That's baseball. Sometimes you feel great and come out on the wrong end of things."
The Rays had one final chance to get something going when Pena walked to start the ninth. One out later, Matt Joyce singled to right to move pinch-runner Rich Thompson to second. After Zobrist popped out, Scott stepped to the plate to face right-hander Addison Reed, but he lost the battle when he popped out to shortstop to end the game.
Batters getting hit or nearly hit aside, a bigger problem for the Rays seems to be the fact that the reserves who are filling in for the regulars -- Tampa Bay still has nine players on the disabled list -- are beginning to leak oil, or are getting overexposed through too much play.
"It's not fun [getting swept]," Maddon said. "They're all close games, even yesterday's game. ... We don't like that. We came off a good series in Boston where they were all very tightly contested games. ... So it's no fun. We have a day off to think about it, [then] we'll come back and play the Orioles. We're battling with them right now."
The Rays are 29-22 and will either end the night in second place in the American League East or remain tied for first with the Orioles, depending on how Baltimore makes out in Toronto on Wednesday night. So even after getting swept, Maddon's always upbeat façade remained.
"I'm very pleased where we're at right now," Maddon said. "Take everything into consideration and I'll take it."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.