DETROIT -- Failed opportunities sank the Rays in a 7-2 loss to the Tigers on Thursday afternoon in the rubber game of a three-game set at Comerica Park with 30,288 watching.
With their first series loss of the season, the Rays moved to 4-2 overall and 1-2 on the current road trip, with stops in Boston and Toronto on the horizon.
Thursday's tell-tale statistic came in the two team's successes with runners in scoring position. Tigers hitters came through when they needed to, going 3-for-7 in the clutch, whereas the Rays squandered early opportunities to build a lead and went 2-for-13 in those situations.
"It's definitely one of those energy shifts when we have something going and it gets shut down," Carlos Pena said. "[It] shifts the energy in a different direction, and now we have to go get it again and bring it our way. So it definitely does something.
"I believe in energy momentum and things like that in baseball. So I'm very aware of it when it happens. Just like any other play. A big strikeout, a big hit, a big play gets momentum going on our side. Things like that get momentum going for the other team."
By the time the bottom of the fifth rolled around, the Rays had a one-run lead thanks to Pena's solo homer, but they were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Alex Avila walked to lead off the Tigers' fifth and stole second when Jhonny Peralta struck out swinging to close an eight-pitch at-bat. Andy Dirks followed with a triple to right to drive home Avila and tie the score at 1.
Rays starter Jeff Niemann continued to battle with the go-ahead runner on third, striking out Ryan Raburn for the second out. But Austin Jackson worked a walk and stole second before Brennan Boesch slashed a two-run single to left to give the Tigers a two-run lead.
Boesch came through in the clutch again in the seventh after the Rays had cut the lead to one run. Detroit had runners on second and third with two outs, prompting manager Joe Maddon to bring in left-hander Jake McGee to pitch to the left-handed-hitting Boesch. McGee got ahead in the count, 1-2, but couldn't put away Boesch, who singled up the middle to drive home two for a three-run lead.
"I'm just missing a little bit," McGee said. "I have my velocity exactly where it needs to be, I'm just missing by a couple of inches here and there."
Tampa Bay appeared to have an edge heading into the contest.
Tigers starter Drew Smyly had his contract purchased from Triple-A Toledo in the morning prior to making his Major League debut. He got off to a rough start in the first inning but came away unscathed. Desmond Jennings drew a leadoff walk and Pena followed with a single to center. Evan Longoria then walked to load the bases.
Tampa Bay appeared to have the rookie on the ropes with Wednesday's hero, Jeff Keppinger, stepping to the plate. But Smyly recovered to retire Keppinger on a flyout to shallow right. Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez then struck out swinging to end the threat.
"It was all there for us, the big at-bat. I felt really good about Keppinger," Maddon said, "with everything we've talked about, him moving the ball. And he did. It was a popup, but he didn't hit it like he normally would. Then you've got punchout, punchout after that. So that gave [Smyly] that little breath of fresh air that kept him going later into that game.
"He has good stuff. He has a good arm. He's going to be very good. Like a lot of young pitchers, command can be an issue, and command was an issue with him. But he's an interesting pitcher."
When Jose Lobaton singled with one out in the fourth and Elliot Johnson walked, Tampa Bay had another prime scoring opportunity. But Smyly retired Matt Joyce on a popout to shortstop and Jennings looked at strike three to end the threat.
In the fifth, Smyly's 89th pitch of the game hit Pena, prompting Tigers manager Jim Leyland to call to the bullpen for Collin Balester. The right-hander struck out Longoria swinging before retiring Keppinger on a ground ball. Pena, running on the pitch, advanced to second base. Balester issued an intentional walk to Zobrist in order to face Rodriguez, who walked to the plate with a .077 batting average. Rodriguez struck out swinging for the third out.
Trailing, 3-1, in the seventh, the Rays got one back when Longoria singled off Brayan Villarreal to drive home Jennings, but Pena was doubled off second base when Keppinger lined out to Peralta at shortstop.
Pena said that he totally misread the play, though Peralta said he did nothing to confuse Pena.
"He told me that he thought the ball was going over [my head]," Peralta said. "I was surprised he was where he was. I said, 'OK, free out.'"
Phil Coke finished the remnants of the rally by striking out Zobrist swinging.
Tampa Bay's final opportunity came in the eighth, when Jose Molina doubled off Joaquin Benoit with one out and Johnson singled to right to put runners at the corners. Joyce then watched strike three before Jennings grounded out to third to end the inning.
"Disappointing loss for us today. [We] just have to get back on it [tomorrow]," Pena said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.