ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays need something to halt their latest skid that threatens to end any hopes of making September meaningful, much less making the playoffs. So maybe facing former ace David Price today somehow will turn out to be a good thing.
They can't do much worse, getting three-hit by Rick Porcello in a 6-0 loss to the Tigers on Wednesday night that was their fourth straight defeat, dropping them eight games back in the race — if you can still call it that — for the second American League wild card.
As little as the Rays (61-65) did offensively in being shut out for an AL-most 15th time — a double by Ben Zobrist in the first, singles in the eighth by James Loney and ninth by Desmond Jennings — the game was close into the seventh then, as has been the case often recently, turned quickly against them.
"You've heard me say this too many times this year, we've lost that kind of game too often," manager Joe Maddon said. "And we're running out of time to stop losing that kind of game."
Jake Odorizzi was having a solid outing himself, having allowed only a first-inning run aided by some sloppy defense, with rightfielder Kevin Kiermaier misplaying a ball off the side wall. Odorizzi had two strikeouts in the seventh and an 0-and-2 count on No. 9 hitter Rajai Davis, but he gave up a double then a soft run-scoring single.
"My stuff was really good today, some of the best I've had all year," Odorizzi said. "Tough luck today when it comes to giving up runs."
Things got worse in a hurry.
Rookie Kirby Yates, one of the young relievers whose "ascension" Maddon has noted, made a huge mistake after loading the bases on a single by Torii Hunter and a walk to Miguel Cabrera.
Yates tried to elevate a 1-and-2 fastball but didn't get it up enough, and Victor Martinez crushed it into the rightfield seats for a grand slam, sending the Tigers fans among the Trop crowd of 13,575 into full roar and many Rays supporters up the aisles.
Maddon called it a "youthful" mistake that Yates will overcome as he eventually learns to better process the moment, a polite way of saying he should have thrown a breaking ball to Martinez, now hitting .388 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 36 games at the Trop.
But Yates insisted he had "all the confidence in the world" in the selection, philosophizing in a Yogi-esque way: "Hindsight is 50-50. It always is. It's about execution."
Porcello (14-8) has been among the AL's top pitchers, but the Rays had roughed him up July 6, scoring seven runs on 11 hits in 52/3 innings. Wednesday was vastly different as the Rays went down 20 straight between Zobrist's double and Loney's single. Maddon said Porcello was so in control it looked as if he was throwing a Wiffle ball in the back yard "and the ball's just doing all kinds of weird things."
So now the Rays are faced with avoiding a costly sweep against a familiar and challenging opponent in an alternate universe setting all agree will be weird.
"We'll see how it plays out," Maddon said. "I'm really eager to see it myself. … From David's perspective I'm sure he's going to be jacked up by all this, and I don't blame him. I'd root for him except that he's pitching against us."
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.