ARLINGTON, Texas — These are the kind of games the Rays aren't supposed to lose.
Not when their starter allows one run — on his first pitch — in a solid six innings.
Not when the opposing starter comes in with numbers they should have been drooling over.
And not when facing a struggling team such as the Rangers (or the A's before them, or the Mariners, or the Indians), given the degree of difficulty of their remaining schedule.
But that's exactly what happened Saturday in a frustrating 3-0 defeat.
"Any loss is tough right now," Rays starter Edwin Jackson said.
And if the circumstances weren't bad enough, they got an up-close-and-personal reminder of the mistake they made in letting Josh Hamilton go. Hamilton, having a remarkable Rangers debut season, made the game's biggest play, a leaping catch at the centerfield wall to rob Ben Zobrist of a tying home run in the sixth inning.
"It kept going and he kept going to the wall and I got a little bit excited, but that got quickly taken away," Zobrist said. "It was a great catch, fantastic. He made it look so easy."
Said Hamilton: "It just all fell together."
The only good news was that Boston also lost, so the Rays (74-48) maintained their 3½-game lead in the American League East going into tonight's finale of their seasonlong 10-game road trip.
Jackson pitched well again — "real good, and he totally gave us a chance to win," manager Joe Maddon said. Ian Kinsler knocked his first pitch over the fence, but he didn't allow much else: five hits total, one run, 101 pitches and a loss.
"First pitch of the game, it's just luck of the draw," Jackson said. "Sometimes hitters ambush (and look for a fastball), sometimes they don't."
The Rays couldn't do much of anything against Rangers starter Matt Harrison, a 22-year-old who was making his eighth career start, who had a 7.07 ERA, who had allowed 46 hits and 19 walks in 352/3 innings of work, who had struck out only seven of his first 168 batters.
And who is left-handed.
Lefties have been a problem for the Rays — they're 20-18 vs. lefties, 54-30 vs. righties — and it was the case again. Having centerfielder B.J. Upton, one of their regular right-handers, sitting out as punishment for not running out a ground ball didn't help, either.
The Rays said Harrison mixed his pitches, was aggressive and pounded the strike zone often, and they couldn't do much about it. They managed only three hits in his eight innings, struck out eight times and made 18 outs in a row after Jason Bartlett singled to open the third. They showed more life cheering on Michael Phelps in the clubhouse afterward.
"There's been several times this year we've faced guys that have really been not doing that well or kind of new to the league, and we just haven't necessarily walked out and pounded these people," Maddon said.
"So I really don't look at that that way anymore. We're in first place, and the teams that are playing against us are turning their dial up a bit."
It's only going to get higher.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.