ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays all were well aware of how long, how arduous and how volatile the season really is, and the first reminder hit them starkly on Tuesday.
The crispness and euphoria of Monday's season-opening win, and much of the crowd, was nowhere to be seen in a 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays that wasn't even interesting until the end.
"For all those fans that were coronating us after (Monday), you can see how this thing works," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And we understand that."
Alex Cobb, whom Maddon was speaking of in ace terms before the game, did not look anything like the part, lacking his usual command or tempo in lasting only five innings.
The Rays offense, dashing and dynamic in posting nine runs on Monday, was much less effective Tuesday. They were kept off the board until the eighth, primarily by Toronto starter Drew Hutchison, a Lakeland High product returning from Tommy John surgery.
And Tropicana Field was a quiet and spacious place, with the announced attendance of 11,113 a dropoff of about 20,000 from the day before. Based on projections for tonight and Thursday, the three-day total may not be much more than Monday's sellout 31,042.
Maddon insisted there was still plenty that was good about the game, such as the four shutout innings from the bullpen, the way they battled back from a 4-0 deficit to make it close and specifically how Evan Longoria hustled to stretch a single to give them a chance in the ninth.
"A lot to love," he said.
There also were the first two uses of replay, including an unsuccessful challenge by Jays manager John Gibbons in the ninth, with both calls confirmed.
Working for the first time when it counted with new catcher Ryan Hanigan, Cobb was not nearly as sharp as he was last season or this spring. After warming up well, he started miserably, allowing a single to leadoff man Melky Cabrera, a one-out full-count walk to Jose Bautista and then, after falling behind Adam Lind 2-and-0 then 3-and-1, making his biggest mistake, serving up a three-run home run. It was the first homer with two (or more) on that Cobb has allowed.
"Babied a changeup in there," Cobb said. "It was, say, outer third to him, up, belt-high. Probably his favorite place he could ask for a ball."
Lind saw it pretty much the same way, a pitch that "stayed right there over the plate. … I don't think (Cobb) was doing what he normally does with it, just trying to get a strike."
Cobb said it was a night-long battle to get command of his fastball, and a losing one based on his departure after only five innings, having thrown 104 pitches.
"Everything was just a little bit off," Maddon said.
Held to just three hits by Hutchison and reliever Aaron Loup through seven innings, the Rays rallied. They got one in the eighth, Wil Myers doubling in Matt Joyce, who reached three times from the leadoff spot. And another in the ninth, Desmond Jennings doubling in Longoria. But after Hanigan walked with two outs, Yunel Escobar struck out.
"I really like the fight in our group," Maddon said.
Game three of 162 is tonight.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.