ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- With a majority of the starting rotation still working its way back to the club, the Texas Rangers would be forgiven if they blamed Friday's 8-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Joe Saunders. Heck, he entered the contest having been a punching bag to the Rays in three career losses.
But the defeat was far from just the left-hander's fault.
Sure, he gave up five runs (four earned) in 3 2/3 innings, but the rest of the Rangers didn't do him any favors.
They made four errors.
They had a crucial running mistake.
They even were foiled by a replay reversal.
"It just wasn't our night," said Prince Fielder, who had the running gaffe that potentially cost his team a run.
Texas entered the contest at Tropicana Field riding a nice little high after two comeback victories against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Once again, though, the Rangers failed to score first.
In fact, they did not get a hit until the fourth inning, when it seemed like they might pull another Houdini act.
After Saunders had gifted the Rays a run in the first on two walks, a single and a hit batsman, the Rangers found themselves trailing 4-0 in the fourth after a three-run homer Saunders surrendered to Sean Rodriguez in the third. An error by Elvis Andrus, Texas' first of the night, played a role.
"I think I just was trying to be too fine with my pitches," Saunders said when discussing the first inning and then the inside fastball to Rodriguez. "I felt like I kind of settled in there in the second, but one bad pitch [to Rodriguez] cost me."
The fourth inning seemingly was the beginning to the end for the Rangers, though.
After Rays rookie starter Jake Odorizzi kept the Rangers hitless over the first three frames, Fielder began the inning with a slicing liner to left. Adrian Beltre hit the ball hard, too, but right at Desmond Jennings in center.
Fielder, though, had a momentary pause coming around third, despite the go sign from third-base coach Gary Pettis.
"I just didn't get a good jump," Fielder said. "I didn't pick up [Pettis] in time. It was my fault."
His manager agreed.
"Prince just blew it," Ron Washington said. "He just missed it [the call]."
Whether that would have changed the lopsided outcome or not, it might beg the question, but Washington wouldn't dwell on it.
"Ya never know," Washington said when asked if the Rangers could have gained some momentum. "We might have just scored that one run. You still don't know what would have happened. Of course, I would have liked to seen what would have happened."
After that inning, things imploded for the Rangers, with Saunders' night ending after he was plunked in the left ankle on a comeback line drive by Evan Longoria in the bottom half of the fourth, soon after he had given up his fifth run.
"He just didn't have a good night," Washington said. "Couldn't get ahead of the hitters. We certainly didn't help a whole lot on the defensive end."
Another mistake by Fielder in the fifth inning indirectly led to more Rays runs. With a man on second, the Texas first-baseman coughed up a sure out on a pop fly by Brandon Guyer, who then reached base on a throwing error by Beltre.
"Just one of those days," Fielder said. "Can't really say much about it. Everybody played hard. Just made a couple mistakes here and there. Just didn't go our way. Just gotta come back tomorrow and fix it."
Although being just four games into the season, Washington knows how important it is to keep the team afloat until the starting brigade returns.
"We have to tighten down on defense," Washington said when asked about being fundamentally sound. "It's obvious, every time we make a mistake, it costs us. It was obvious in spring training. We don't have a pitching staff [right now] that can strike people out. We certainly can't have them having four outs an inning. It's got to get better, and it will."
Other mishits: The Rangers were the victim of a replay reversal when Rays manager Joe Maddon challenged a ruling that Wil Myers trapped, rather than caught, a ball hit to right by J.P. Arencibia. Initially, first-base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt had ruled the ball hit the turf, but MLB officials overturned the call. The delay took 1 minute, 43 seconds.