ST. PETERSBURG -- Chris Archer hung tough after getting dinged up, Brandon Guyer had a clutch hit in the ninth, and the Rays managed to get the winning run to the plate. Despite all the positives, the Rays still lost.
The Pirates hung on for a 6-5 win at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night after taking a 6-1 lead to claim the three-game series that concludes Wednesday afternoon with a 12:10 p.m. ET contest.
"The moral victories are really not what we're looking for right now," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We're looking for actual victories. I love the idea that we played through to the ninth inning. I love the idea that the winning run came to the plate. I loved all of that, and it's wonderful and really speaks to the fortitude of our guys. We just have to be more offensive early."
Maddon has expressed hope that his team can inch back into playoff contention by winning one series at a time, and that thinking grew some legs when the Rays won three games in their four-game series against the Astros. But after Tuesday night's loss, it's back to square one. And they're hoping to avoid getting swept by the Pirates in the final game.
The Rays (31-48) maintained their lock on the worst record in baseball while remaining in the cellar of the American League East. They have lost 20 of their last 28 games.
Like they did in Monday night's win over the Rays, the Pirates charged out of the gate.
Gregory Polanco drew a walk from Rays starter Chris Archer to lead off the game. He then stole second and catcher Jose Molina threw wild on the play, allowing Polanco to reach third and score one out later on Andrew McCutchen's groundout to second.
Archer remained unfazed, striking out two in the first and allowing no further damage. He returned to the mound in the second and retired the Pirates on nine pitches, striking out two.
But the Pirates got busy again in the third when Pedro Alvarez drew a leadoff walk and Jordy Mercer reached on an infield single to Archer. After Polanco sacrificed the runners into scoring position, Starling Marte singled home Alvarez. McCutchen added an RBI single and Neil Walker drove home another with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-0, Pirates.
Polanco misplayed Logan Forsythe's fly ball to right with two outs in the fifth, and Forsythe ended up on third with a triple. Molina followed with a double down the left-field line to score Forsythe and cut the lead to 4-1.
The Pirates answered in the sixth when Josh Harrison singled home Ike Davis to push the lead back to four runs.
Archer allowed five runs -- four earned -- on seven hits and two walks while striking out seven in seven innings to take his fifth loss of the season.
Brad Boxberger took over for Archer and retired the first two hitters he faced. Russell Martin then hit a 1-0 pitch into the left-field stands for his fourth homer of the season and a 6-1 Pirates lead.
"The add-on runs really hurt," Maddon said. "The two-out double by Davis, followed by the base hit by Harrison, big play. Two-out home run against Boxberger, by Martin, big play. That kind of gets overlooked in these moments. Believe me, they're not lost on me."
The impact of those runs was not lost on Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, either.
"Big swing of the bat from Ike and then J-Hay to add a run, and then obviously Russ being able to ride one out of here also helped," Hurdle said.
Jeff Locke held the Rays to one run in 7 1/3 innings before Evan Longoria hit his 10th home run of the season, a two-run shot to left that cut the lead to 6-3.
After singles from Forsythe and Desmond Jennings, Brandon Guyer hit a two-out, two-run single off Mark Melancon in the bottom of the ninth, but the righty retired Longoria on a flyout to end the game.
"Can't get too down on yourself," Ben Zobrist said. "It was a good comeback right there. We were one hit away from winning that game after getting down 6-1. That's saying something."
It's just not saying victory.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.