ST. PETERSBURG — There really didn't appear to be anything the Rays could have done to avoid Wednesday's 3-0 matinee loss.
Toronto's R.A. Dickey had his knuckleball moving — not so much floating, but darting, and seemingly on command — and the Rays, as prepared as they said they were, were rendered all but helpless:
A perfect game thrown against them into the fifth inning, held to two singles total, just one runner past first base.
"(Dickey) was that good," manager Joe Maddon said. "We didn't hit, I don't think, one ball hard. Even our foul balls were not hit hard. He was just on top of his game."
The loss halted — again — any momentum the Rays (41-38) may have built in winning their previous three and left them just a game out of last place in the American League East (though only 51/2 from first) as they enjoy a day off before opening a weekend series with the always challenging Tigers.
Maddon, though, insisted there was some satisfaction in taking two of three from a Blue Jays team that had won 11 straight going in and holding them to five runs total, with Roberto Hernandez delivering a strong start — his best as a Ray — in a losing effort.
"Before the series began, two out of three against these guys would have been outstanding," Maddon said. "That's what we got."
They also got a reminder of how frustratingly effective Dickey's knuckleball can be in a game eerily similar to the one-hit complete game he threw against them with the Mets last June.
"If (the Rays) had been able to take up a tennis racket, they might have had better results," Maddon said. "The fact that the bat is so slender, it's almost like that movie It Happens Every Spring, where the guy puts (on) the magic potion and the ball then would miss the bat or jump all over the place. That's kind of what the reference would be right there."
Or, as Luke Scott described it:
"Trying to eat soup with a fork, the old Yogi Berra comment. That's very accurate. It's frustrating. Makes you want to grab the bowl and slurp it, but you can't do that."
Or, as Matt Joyce explained it:
"You're swinging, and you might as well be swinging with your eyes closed, because you're swinging and praying that (the ball is) going to break into the bat. And obviously it didn't break where we were swinging too much."
Or, as Desmond Jennings summarized it:
"It's no fun at all. … You've got to swing and hope it goes to where your bat is going. I think video games are probably easier."
The Jays took a 1-0 lead with a pair of hits off Hernandez in the fourth, then expanded it with solo homers by Adam Lind in the sixth and Edwin Encarnacion on Hernandez's 118th and final pitch. "Probably his best game all year," Maddon said.
The Rays didn't even come close to a run. They went 13 up and 13 down before James Loney singled with one out in the fifth to avoid the no-hitter alerts, then got a one-out single the next inning from Yunel Escobar, who was erased on a double play.
Their one chance — if you can call it that — came when Jennings walked on four pitches to start the seventh, the first batter Dickey even went to a three-ball count on.
"I thought, okay, maybeeeee," Maddon said.
But Ben Zobrist swung at the first pitch and popped out foul, Evan Longoria struck out, and after Jennings stole second — their only runner in scoring position for the day — Loney fouled out.
Dickey, who needed only 93 pitches to complete the game, said his key was repeating his delivery and throwing consistent strikes. The Rays raved about how he was able to throw it wherever he wanted — up or down, in or out — and how unpredictable he was.
"It was no fun," Maddon said. "Again."