OAKLAND, Calif. — The new guy, Drew Smyly, wasn't the problem Tuesday, making a decent debut in replacing David Price in the Tampa Bay rotation.
The Rays' downfall in the 3-0 loss to Oakland was actually an old acquaintance: a stark lack of offense.
"I've said this a thousand times I think, that's been our biggest issue, the ability to drive in runs," manager Joe Maddon said. "We had the guys out there and we just could not get them home."
Add in some sloppy defense (three errors) and questionable baserunning, and the result was the Rays' fifth loss in their last six games, bringing their season record down to 54-59 — and dropping them farther in the standings.
The Rays are now 10½ games behind the Orioles in what may no longer be considered reasonable pursuit of the American League East title, though still 5½ games back of Toronto — and trailing five other teams — in the race for the second AL wild card.
"We've got to be more offensive," Maddon said, about five different ways.
While Price impressed in his heralded debut for the Tigers in the Yankee Stadium, Smyly did okay for the Rays.
"I thought for the first time out it was pretty darn good," Maddon said. "He made pretty good pitches when he had to."
The 25-year-old lefty pitched into the sixth inning, allowing three runs on seven hits, striking out six while walking two (one intentionally, from a 2-2 count) and bouncing two breaking balls for wild pitches while throwing 107 overall, 70 for strikes.
"I thought I threw the ball well," Smyly said.
He went into the start insisting he was not trying to replace or be compared to anyone and but was focused just on being himself, though he was taking Price's slot in the rotation and wearing James Shields' old No. 33.
While Smyly looked calm, he acknowledged that wasn't necessarily the case.
"Warming up and in the first inning you have a little butterflies," Smyly said. "It feels a little different, first game with a new team, you want to do well. But once you got out of the first it was just the same old, same old. Just pitching."
Smyly posted four zeroes to start, including in the fourth when the A's had two on and two outs and after a double steal left first base open with a 2-2 count on righty hitter Nate Freiman, Maddon ordered an intentional walk, loading the bases to have Smyly face lefty Josh Reddick and it worked as he popped out.
"That's the manager's call," Smyly said, not biting on whether or how surprised he was. "He thought it would help, and it ended up being the right call."
The first run Smyly gave up wasn't the result of much, a leadoff single by Alberto Callaspo in the fifth, a sac bunt then a ground ball single by Coco Crisp through the shift, with rookie rightfielder Kevin Kiermaier's tremendously errant throw home eliminating any suspense. "He could definitely have been out," Maddon said.
The hope was to get Smyly through the sixth, but that didn't work out. Smyly had thrown 94 pitches through five and though never said he was tired, did acknowledge "the pitch count got up, kind of." Maddon said he didn't think Smyly was getting tired, but also admitted that it'll take him four or five starts to get a full read on his new pitcher.
After a well-struck out by Jonny Gomes, Derek Norris singled to left and Freiman laced an RBI double into the corner on a misplaced pitch. "I think he kind of yanked that pitch into his happy area as opposed to staying away, where he wanted to go," Maddon said.
Another errant throw, this one a relay by shortstop Yunel Escobar not only allowed that run to score, but set up the next one, as Freiman went to third and scored on Reddick's check-swing single off reliever Jeff Beliveau.
Maddon said Escobar also had a chance for an out at the plate, but rushed his throw because he wasn't aware Norris was trying to score.
"From what I understand, he did not hear the trail man telling him what to do," Maddon said. "Because of that, he thought the runner was not running and that's why he had to rush the throw and it wasn't that good. He had a pretty good shot at that runner."
There was an accomplishment for the pitchers. Reliever Kirby Yates got Freiman swinging to end the seventh for the Rays' 1,000th strikeout for the season, and they got there quicker, in their 113th game, than any team in MLB history. The 2013 Tigers did it in 114 on their way to an MLB record 1,428 for the season.
But Tuesday's three-run margin proved to be insurmountable as the Rays were shut out for an AL-high matching 14th time, going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position (and 1-for-15 for the series) while leaving nine on.
The Rays were shut down in the sixth by former teammate Jason Hammel, who had been brutal in his first four starts for the A's after being acquired from the Cubs — going 0-4 with a 9.53 ERA, getting through the fifth inning only once and never allowing less than three runs.
Not that the Rays didn't have chances. They loaded the bases in the second, with a pair of two-out singles and a walk, but Kevin Kiermaier grounded out. They started the third with a walk, a fielder's choice grounder and a single, but Evan Longoria grounded into a double play. Three of the first four batters in the fourth singled, but Yunel Escobar hit into a double play and Kiermaier flied out.
At that point, they had four hits in a stretch of six at-bats over two innings with nothing to show for it.
"We just have to get those knocks," Maddon said. "A couple knocks here and there and guys would be flying around like the Wallendas."
But the most frustrating failure may have come in the fifth, in part because it looked like a lack of hustle on the bases, though Ben Zobrist insisted that was not the case.
The inning started with a walk by Desmond Jennings, the fourth straight inning the Rays got the leadoff man on. He moved up on a wild pitch, then broke for third on Zobrist's grounder and got thrown out, with Matt Joyce going down swinging for the second out.
That's when things got curious.
Longoria blooped a ball into shallow right that Josh Reddick came in hard and dove for but couldn't hang on to. With two outs, Zobrist would have — in theory anyway — had a chance to score what would have been the game's first run if he was busting it around the bases.
But Zobrist got only as far as third, and was surprised at the question about whether should have tried to race home, especially since he said third base coach Tom Foley wasn't waving him around.
"I didn't have a chance to score. Did you think I had a chance to score?" Zobrist said. "I didn't feel like I was loafing on it. … Just because of where the ball was hit there was very little chance to score unless the ball kicked away. That's probably not a play I ever scored on, that close to the infield."
Maddon said he didn't see Zobrist's part in the play live and would have to check out the replay to determine whether he could have scored, noting Zobrist "is a full effort player all the time."
It mattered more because the Rays never got closer to score, with only one other runner reaching base the rest of the night.
"We've had this conversation so many times when we're unable to score runs," Maddon said. "That's really the tale of the game, because our pitching was good enough to win tonight."
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.