ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays had their chances Friday night. Lots of them.
They had a pitcher making his big-league debut on the ropes in the first and second innings. And the third. They let him escape each time.
"We couldn't get that big hit, for whatever reason," Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
After three consecutive nights in Houston, where the Rays did nothing but get big hits, the offense came up flat against the Brewers in a 2-0 loss that began a crucial nine-game homestand.
Fortunately for the Rays, they remained a half-game back of the Royals for the AL's second wild card since Kansas City also lost.
Tampa Bay's charter flight home from Houston did not land until 4 a.m., and given that the Rays won three emotional games against the team with the AL's best record, a letdown would've been understandable.
"Not at all," Cash said. "Their guy threw a good ball game. We just went quiet. He made pitches, we didn't get big hits. We had the pressure on him. He made the pitches, that's the way it goes sometimes. I don't think anything can let us down from the three good games we played in Houston, and we'll pick it back up" tonight.
Their guy was right-hander Brandon Woodruff, who entered having gone 1-5 with a 6.69 ERA in his past 10 starts at Triple A. He pitched into the seventh and allowed seven hits, but none that hurt.
"Their guy, he was impressive," Cash said.
The Rays loaded the bases with two outs in the first, but Brad Miller ended the threat when he bounced back to the mound.
The Rays loaded the bases with two outs in the second, but Evan Longoria grounded into a forceout.
The Rays had runners on the corners with no outs in the third when Logan Morrison singled and Steven Souza Jr.'s grounder to third resulted in a throwing error.
But Miller struck out, Wilson Ramos flied out to shallow center and Souza, hoping to steal second, got himself in a rundown and was tagged out before Morrison could score.
"(Brewers catcher Manny Piña) pump-faked then threw to second base, which is something you hardly ever see," Souza said. "I wasn't going 100 percent. The rundown didn't work out in our favor."
The Rays (57-54) were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on base before 21,164 at Tropicana Field.
Wasted was a solid start by Jacob Faria, who allowed one run in six innings. That came on a leadoff triple to left-center by Orlando Arcia in the third and a single to right by Eric Thames.
"The only run (Faria) gave up was, in theory, if (centerfielder Mallex Smith) hit the cutoff man, we got a play at third base where that guy might be out," Cash said. "But that's the way it goes."
The Rays had a chance to tie it at 1 in the seventh when Corey Dickerson tried to score from first on Longoria's double down the leftfield line. But Dickerson was thrown out at the plate after Arcia made a strong relay throw.
Cash said it was the right call by third-base coach Charlie Montoyo to send Dickerson.
"I thought it was dead-on the right call. In that situation, that late in the ball game," Cash said. "Force the issue a little bit. It took a perfect bounce off the wall to the leftfielder. He made a perfect throw to the shortstop.
"You got to challenge it. A lot of things have to go right, and credit them, it did. A no-brainer. I fully support that send. I even high-fived (Montoyo) afterward."