ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Maddon has laid it on the line to his last-place Rays: "50-50." Fifty wins and 50 losses.
"We have to set 50-50 as a goal," Maddon declared Saturday after the Rays reverted to their losing ways, succumbing to the Mariners and their rookie left-hander Roenis Elias, 7-4, to drop their season record to a Major League-worst 24-39.
"That's what I presented to the group [on Thursday]," continued Maddon. "That would be our short-term goal, not a long-term goal. That means we have to go 26-11. That's not out of the realm of possibility. We've done that standing on our heads at times.
"We've got to start winning series. Two out of three, three out of four. That's how we get back into this thing. We're not going to win 15 games in a row.
"We can't necessarily look at first place. We have to leapfrog teams one at a time."
"We're going to be 50-50 in a couple of days," Maddon vowed. "And we're going to be back in the playoff hunt by September."
After an emotional pregame ceremony celebrating the life of the team's beloved long-time advisor, Don Zimmer, the Rays lost for the 11th time in their last 12 games Saturday as Alex Cobb, whose ERA of 3.19 going into Saturday's game was the best of any of the Rays' starters, failed to make it through the fifth inning for the first time this season. Cobb exited after 4 1/3 innings, having served up a 10 hits yielding seven runs -- both season highs for him - in what was his worst start off the year. Cobb is now 1-4, having dropped three in a row.
"There's no worse feeling in the world than walking off the field and giving your team absolutely no chance to win the game," said Cobb.
"I never want to feel like that. And the only thing to do is turn it around next time out. You either figure it out, or you'll have a different job eventually."
"I know he's going to be hard on himself," Maddon said of Cobb. "But he's still rebuilding. He's still in that phase. He's going to be fine.
"We've had an emotional time, losing 10 in a row and losing Zim, but we have to get beyond emotion," Maddon continued. "We need to get our stuff together. I know Zim would say, 'You mourned for me today -- now let's move on.'"
Elias held the Rays to four runs on five hits and lasted 7 2/3 innings on Saturday.
"How old is that kid?" Maddon asked after the game, obviously impressed.
Told the Mariners' left-hander is 25, the Rays' manager said, "He's good."
Cole Gillespie homered to center in the second inning to put the Mariners on top, 1-0, but James Loney evened the scored with a solo homer of his own in the bottom of the second.
After Yunel Escobar walked and Logan Forsythe singled to put Rays on first and third, Ali Solis laid down a safety-squeeze bunt -- Zimmer's favorite play -- to give the Rays a 2-1 lead. That was also Solis' first Major League RBI.
Singles by Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller, and Willie Bloomquist, plus Endy Chavez's sacrifice fly made the score 3-2, in favor of Seattle, in the fourth.
The Mariners loaded the bases before Cobb could get anyone out in the fifth. Then Ackley brought all three runners home with a double to deep right center. A double by Bloomquist knocked in another run, marking the 39th time this year that the Rays have allowed at least three runs in an inning.
In the eighth inning, Desmond Jennings doubled off Elias, and with two away, Evan Longoria hit a home run to left, cutting the Rays' deficit to three runs, but Danny Farquhar and former Ray Fernando Rodney held Tampa Bay down for the rest of the game.
"We've got a long way to go," Maddon said later. "We've got plenty of time to get back into it."
Jim Hawkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.