Spotting the Rays a four-run advantage after three innings, the Angels rallied late but fell in a 6-4 loss at Tropicana Field on Monday night before a crowd of 15,896, no doubt held down by the threat of Tropical Storm Fay's imminent arrival.
Powered by two-run homers by Eric Hinske in the second inning and Cliff Floyd in the third against Angels starter Jon Garland, the Rays won for the fifth time in seven meetings with the Angels.
"Two bad pitches, that's what it came down to," Garland said. "Their first shot at the playoffs in franchise history, they're going for it. The grind takes its toll this time of year, but when you're fighting every day, you can taste it."
The American League East-leading Rays swept a series at home against the AL West kingpins in May, with the Angels taking two of three from Tampa Bay at home in June.
"That is flat-out a good team," Angels first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "Their pitching has gotten much better. They've always had good athletes and hitters. They're in a pennant race with the Yankees and Red Sox. That's got to motivate you. Pennant races bring out the best in teams."
Running away from their division rivals, the Angels realize their competition is within, rooted in keeping themselves sharp and motivated internally.
"It ain't October," Chone Figgins pointed out. "It's important to play good anywhere, against anybody."
Juan Rivera's solo homer leading off the third, his ninth of the season, was all the Angels had to show in support of Garland until the sixth, when Torii Hunter's single, Garret Anderson's RBI double and a sacrifice fly by Rivera brought them to within two runs of the Rays' lead.
Anderson extended his hitting streak to 21 games, seven shy of his club record set in 1998.
After going a combined 0-for-31 in three games in Cleveland, Vladimir Guerrero, Hunter and Howie Kendrick showed signs of busting out. Guerrero had two hits, including an RBI single in the seventh that shaved the Rays' lead to a run, while Hunter and Kendrick each singled.
Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine yielded three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings, moving to 13-6 with the win. Rays manager Joe Maddon deployed four relievers to contain the Halos, with Dan Wheeler nailing down his sixth save, assuming injured closer Troy Percival's role.
"The only way we can embarrass ourselves is by lack of effort," Maddon said. "I saw us playing a typical Rays game tonight."
Garland, giving up five runs (four earned) on 10 hits in six innings, slipped to 11-8.
"I threw some good pitches that I was shocked they hit," Garland said.
The bad ones were a changeup to Hinske, high in the zone, that he unloaded to right, and a fastball that Floyd sent on a clothesline into the right-field seats.
Garland didn't put much stock in the idea that the Angels need to put something in the Rays' heads about being able to perform at a high level on artificial turf inside a dome.
"I still think our main concern is in this clubhouse," said Garland, a World Series champion in 2005 as part of a dominant White Sox rotation. "If we don't take care of business, we're going to get beat."
Guerrero, who has had a superb season defensively, let a ground-ball single by Willy Aybar get through him in the third inning, handing the Rays an unearned run.
There were sparkling plays as well. Rivera stunned B.J. Upton with a throw from the wall in left to a trailing Teixeira to erase Upton easing into second in the fourth inning. Erick Aybar back-handed a hit from brother Willy to start a double play behind Shane Loux in the seventh before Loux yielded an insurance run on three hits in the eighth.
The Angels had a chance in the fourth after a fielding error by second baseman Akinori Iwamura, but Rivera bounced out to leave the bases loaded. They also left two runners stranded in the fifth.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia wasn't happy with his club's offensive production. Maddon was his right-hand man with the 2002 World Series champion Angels in their dugout and is his good friend, but Sciosica is more in tune with what his club isn't doing than with what Maddon's club is doing.
"What's hurt here is what's happened in the batter's box," Scioscia said. "We haven't swung the bats in a good hitting park. Sure, they're pitching well. Their pitching staff has done the job all year. We haven't been able to create the way we need to."
The Rays' 46-17 home record is the best in the Majors by a half-game over the Cubs. The Angels still own the Majors' best road record at 39-24, but losses in three of their past four on this road trip have done nothing to elevate the mood of their manager.
"It's a unique park, for sure," Scioscia said. "Those guys are playing good baseball. They're doing a lot of things right. We've got to pick up our game, for sure. The last four or five games, we've just been a little flat."
Tropical Storm Fay permitting, the Angels will try to break through at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night behind Ervin Santana, who faces James Shields.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.