It was an unfortunate start to an important road trip for Texas, which sits one game behind Boston in the American League Wild Card and two games ahead of Tampa Bay.
"You just can't miss a sign in that part of the game," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "That's all. He'll get better from it."
The Rangers, who struggled to find success against Tampa Bay starter Scott Kazmir through seven frames, finally strung together some hits in the eighth. Taylor Teagarden hit a solo home run to lead off the inning. Back-to-back RBIs by Marlon Byrd and Andruw Jones cut the Rays' lead to 5-3.
But with Hamilton at the plate in a 2-2 count, Borbon, pinch-running for Byrd, thought he saw the sign to steal. Zaun threw down and shortstop Jason Bartlett tagged him from behind as Borbon slid in. Washington said he did not send Borbon.
"I just got a little mixed up on the sign there," said the rookie Borbon, now 8-for-9 in steal attempts in 11 games this season. "The guy had done a good job holding me, too. It wasn't the smartest thing to do."
"I saw [Borbon] looking at the coach, and the coach nodded," Bartlett said. "I don't know if he said, 'Can I go?' But [Grant Balfour] is not slow to the plate."
The rally nearly eradicated a rough start by Texas right-hander Dustin Nippert, who lasted just five innings and gave up five runs (four earned). A two-run home run by Ben Zobrist followed directly by a solo homer by Carlos Pena in the fifth gave the Rays a 5-0 lead.
"[In the] third and fourth innings, I felt like I was going all right," Nippert said. "Then the fifth inning came around, and I don't know if I lost my focus or what. Those two pitches were not where I wanted to throw them. That was the deciding factor of the game."
Texas also started the game sloppy defensively, committing two errors in the first two innings that led to two Rays runs. Nippert fell to 1-2 with a 5.14 ERA on the road this season (3-0, 1.76 ERA at home).
"He was a little erratic early," Washington said. "They put two runs on the board early in the game there. The third and fourth inning I thought he began to gather himself there. But he just had one of those days where he wasn't consistent with keeping the ball in the strike zone. They did a good job of not chasing."
The Rangers had no answer for Kazmir, who shut down the lineup that scored 11 runs against the Twins the night before. In perhaps his best pitching performance of the season, Kazmir allowed just three hits through the first seven innings. He ran out of gas in the eighth, getting charged with three runs in the frame.
Former University of Texas pitcher J.P. Howell pitched the ninth for his 15th save of the season.
"[Kazmir] was throwing it in the strike zone, and we were putting it in play and not finding holes," Washington said. "The guy threw a good game."
The Rangers began the game sleepily, persevered late, but ended up falling short on an upsetting play in a tight situation.
"You just don't force things," Washington said. "There are certain situations in the ballgame that say that the best thing to do is let the guy at the plate do his damage. [Borbon] learned from it. We'll move on. I don't think he'll do that again."