BOSTON — The good news, in theory, Sunday was that the Rays avoided the ignominy of being no-hit for a fifth time in five seasons as Kelly Johnson's broken-bat bloop single leading off the eighth ended Clay Buchholz's impressive bid.
But the bad news, in reality, was another abysmal showing by their so-called offense, leading to a 5-0 loss to the Red Sox that left even perpetually positive manager Joe Maddon a bit down.
"Just psychologically for the team itself, again, we've got to hit the ball just to really pick everybody's spirits up," Maddon said. "When you're not hitting the ball, totally you get that bad vibe among the group. It's hard to really keep them pushing or moving or motivated."
The numbers certainly are depressing, and concerning: American League lows in runs (33), average (.212), hits (73), extra-base hits (19) and home runs (four, fewer than seven players). Sunday was the fourth time in 11 games they scored two or fewer runs, and with three hits total it was the 10th time they were in single digits.
"It's just one of those things you need something to spark it," Johnson said. "We're just going to have to find that spark somewhere."
Maddon made it clear — for those of you who keep wondering about top prospect Wil Myers — that the answer to their 4-7 start is not a sudden roster shakeup.
"Of course not," Maddon said. "We're just looking for the guys we know have more in them to just bring it out."
The group they fielded Sunday didn't show much of anything, six of the first nine going down on strikes against Buchholz, who tends to be a challenge for them anyway.
"I don't know if anybody else was thinking it, but I was certainly thinking he had no-hit stuff today even after my first AB," Johnson said. "A pretty special outing for him."
The Rays had walked four times — so at least they weren't facing another perfect game — and were down 4-0 after an up-and-down outing by Alex Cobb when Johnson led off the eighth.
Having struck out his first two trips, he sought to change something, so he picked up one of Sam Fuld's 31-ounce Marucci bats and shifted his back foot closer to the plate.
Buchholz changed up, too, shaking off signs for a fastball and a cutter to throw a curve, and after the first one was a called strike did so again. "I was not expecting that," Johnson said, "but I was in good enough position the same time around to at least make some contact, even though it was a broken bat."
Buchholz, who finished with a career-high 11 strikeouts, said the idea was for it to be a bad enough pitch that Johnson couldn't hit it: "Just one of those things."
Fuld followed by grounding into a double play, then Desmond Jennings, who came closest to a hit with a shot in the sixth that shortstop Stephen Drew deflected and second baseman Dustin Pedroia made a play on, doubled. Evan Longoria, who flied out in a big spot when the Rays had two on via walks in the sixth, added a single in the ninth.
Fuld said he didn't mind losing the lumber: "At least somebody got a hit."
The Rays certainly know the empty feeling, having been no-hit four times since 2009 — perfect games by Chicago's Mark Buehrle (2009), Oakland's Dallas Braden (2010) and Seattle's Felix Hernandez (2012), plus a messy no-no by Arizona's Edwin Jackson (2010, with Johnson in the Diamondbacks lineup).
Ben Zobrist, who along with Longoria are the only Rays left who were part of all of them, said there was that growing sense of here they go again. Maddon admitted he had it, too, but said based on their past experience he wasn't too worried about it being a big deal.
"We have so much practice at talking about that postgame that I was not that concerned," he said. "And it's never really had an impact on us the next day. I actually reflected on it, no question, because it's happened to us so often, probably more than any other team over the last several years. It's always somewhat there. But it's just more about winning or losing the game, looking for that one moment that you get things rolling."
Eleven games in, it has been elusive.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]