ST. PETERSBURG — Even at their worst, in the 106-loss 2002 season with a lineup that featured Brent Abernathy, Ben Grieve and, yes, Jason Tyner, they weren't this bad.
With Tuesday's 1-0 loss to the Cardinals, these Rays, the ones with the franchise-record $80 million payroll and World Series expectations, faltered to a new level of futility, a third consecutive shutout running their scoreless streak to a franchise-record 28 innings, two more than Hal McRae's 2002 bunch stumbled to in April.
"It's baffling in some regards," manager Joe Maddon said. "I've been through this before … but not with this group of names. It's more difficult with this group of names. They're good names."
To get there, the Rays (24-42) were blanked for a third straight time (the first time in their history and the first American League team to do so in 10 years) and 10th time this season (tied for most in the majors), wasting a strong start by Jake Odorizzi.
Overall, it was the majors-worst Rays' 14th loss in a 15-game stretch in which they've scored 35 runs, hit .266 and gone 10-for-101 with runners in scoring position.
"It's hard to explain. It's hard to put into words how frustrating it is," outfielder Matt Joyce said. "It just seems surreal. You just keep thinking it's got to turn around at some point. You're too good to struggle this much."
As much as the offense has been the problem, Maddon made it clear before the game he is not placing any blame on hitting coach Derek Shelton — "Zero percent is Shelty's fault" — but putting the onus on the players.
"It just comes down to the individuals," he said. "There's that moment where you just can't be denied. It's really a competition. Whoever's pitching out there on any given day, you've just got to compete and try to beat that guy. We've just got to go primal in a sense and really just rely on what got us here in the first place, and that's the ability to compete."
The challenge Tuesday — before a Trop crowd of 17,266 more red than blue — was even more daunting as they faced Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright. But they had some chances.
In the first, two singles and a walk yielded nothing. In the fourth, they had men on second and third, but David DeJesus and Logan Forsythe lined out. And in the eighth, with their first two on, James Loney struck out, Ben Zobrist lined out and, after they loaded the bases, Joyce popped out.
"You get frustrated," catcher Jose Molina said. "Nothing is going our way right now."
Odorizzi, one of several Rays who grew up Cardinals fans, did his part, retiring the first 11, with help from a hustling Molina (showing off for brother Yadier), and not allowing his first hit until two outs into the fifth.
But he made one mistake with two outs in the next inning, floating a 1-and-2 changeup that Matt Holliday blasted, or as Odorizzi said, "crushed," into the leftfield seats.
Maddon said all they can do is stay in routine, mentioning his morning bike ride on Davis Islands, and keep working.
"There's really nothing else to do," he said. "Honestly, there's not. There's no criticism to be thrown. There's no slings and arrows. There's none of that stuff. Come out and work again tomorrow until we get it right."