The way the Rays' rotation has been rolling this past month, any rough start comes as almost a shock.
But right-hander Jeremy Hellickson didn't have it Wednesday night, and the offense didn't give him much help in a 7-0 loss to the Diamondbacks in front of a kids-heavy crowd of 25,095 at Tropicana Field.
Hellickson lasted just 41/3 innings, the first time since June 22 a Rays starter failed to go five, and allowed four runs on seven hits, snapping his six-game winning streak.
"It was a disappointing outing, to say the least," Hellickson said. "I really couldn't command anything."
It was an uncharacteristic way for the Rays (64-44) to end the best month in club history (21-5) — and the third-best July in major-league history — snapping a streak of 10 winning series. They also fell a half-game out of first in the American League East after Boston's 5-4 15-inning win in Seattle.
"You can't be an oil painting every night, although we've pretty much been the entire month of July," manager Joe Maddon said. "I can't sit here and bemoan anything right now. They're not a bunch of robots; they're going to have a bad night on occasion."
Hellickson (10-4) would have needed an almost perfect night considering the way the offense squandered opportunities, stranding nine and going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. The Rays were kept off-balance by lefty Wade Miley, who was effectively wild, walking five but carrying a no-hitter into the fourth.
Their best chance came in the seventh, when Tampa Bay, down 5-0, loaded the bases with one out. But reliever Heath Bell struck out Desmond Jennings, then Evan Longoria to thwart the threat.
Though Longoria has been struggling, hitting .193 in July, he savored the opportunity to be in a big situation. But he thought Bell would throw a fastball on the 3-and-2 pitch and was frozen by a slider on the corner.
"It's just kind of the way it's been going for me," Longoria said. "I'm looking for one pitch and getting another."
The Rays had won Hellickson's past seven starts, but he put them behind two runs before their first at-bat Wednesday. He nearly got out of a two-on, one-out jam, striking out Eric Chavez. But Aaron Hill hit a high chopper with an awkward hop to short, and barely beat the throw from Yunel Escobar to load the bases. Cody Ross then came through with a two-run single.
"The play at first base kind of put a little dent in us," Maddon said. "But nevertheless, (Hellickson) was not really sharp."
Hellickson said he felt good overall in a 92-pitch outing but couldn't make the big pitch when he needed to. He thought one of the best pitches he threw all night was a 2-and-2 changeup to Chavez in the third, but the Diamondbacks DH ripped it inside the rightfield foul pole for his second two-run homer in as many nights.
"That," Maddon said, "was a pretty big blow."
The Rays picked up just three hits all night, though rookie Wil Myers extended his hitting streak to 12 games, one of the few bright spots for the largest midweek crowd since opening day, aided by 9,700 tickets purchased through the $2 kids ticket promotion.
But to Maddon, the loss didn't take the glow off a marvelous month.
"I really can't get too upset," he said. "It's been a pretty good July. That's one of the funnest Julys I've ever participated in."