ST. PETERSBURG — There really wasn't anything else David Price could have done Tuesday to help the Rays to a badly needed win. Not unless he grabbed a bat to knock in one of his seven teammates who actually reached base, or raced out to centerfield to catch the fly ball that Desmond Jennings didn't, leading directly to the 2-0 loss to Boston.
Price was dazzling and dominant for eight innings and a career-high 127 pitches, but with little help from his teammates, it wasn't enough as the fading Rays lost for the 12th time in their past 16 games before 18,605 at the Trop.
Jennings, who has been in a what would have to be called a defensive slump, didn't have much of an explanation for his latest misplay that, followed by an errant throw, set up both of the Red Sox's fifth-inning runs.
"It's a play that should've been made that didn't get made," he said.
There have been a number of those all around as the Rays dropped to 78-65, 8½ games back and just about out of the AL East race and in jeopardy of losing their hold on the second wild-card spot.
They actually got some help, sort of, on Tuesday as their two closest pursuers, the Indians and Oriole, both lost, though to the Royals and Yankees, putting all four teams within three games of them. The Rays remained 2½ behind the wild card-leading Rangers.
Manager Joe Maddon doesn't seem to have any answers about how to shake his team from a skid that has seen it drop from first place to the brink of the playoff picture in a little more than two weeks, saying there was no extra work to be done, lineup changes to be made or speeches to be given.
"There's got to be like this organic moment within the group that all of a sudden just pops and then you're going to see us just take off again," Maddon said. "But it can't be contrived or fabricated. Something's got to happen within this group, whether it's a hit, or a pitcher, I don't know, but something has to occur that's going to get us on the right track again and become more consistent.
"You're at that time of the season, 19 games left, and to try something new or a fabrication, it's not there. Tried and true has got to work. These guys are the guys that are going to take us to the promised land. Something's got to pop among this group, that one wild moment, that's going to get us going again."
Maddon hoped leaving Price out there to battle might do it, admiring the way he retired the first 12 Sox in order, flashing a fastball that hit 95 mph and off-speed pitches that couldn't be touched.
"He could not have done anything more," Maddon said. "I was looking for that to be that moment, to rally around what he had done. You're looking for this different thing to generate the rallying cry. … It didn't happen."
Mike Napoli hit Price's 2-and-2 pitch to deep center to open the fifth, but both Jennings and Maddon said it should have been caught. Jennings broke back the wrong way and wary of taking his eye off the ball couldn't adjust, the result a double. "I didn't get back there in time," he said. "I reached up and it hit. I didn't reach up high enough, I guess."
Jonny Gomes, the former Ray who has tormented his old mates, delivered again, with an RBI single. Jennings made it worse with a weak, off-target throw that missed the cutoff man and was wide to the plate, allowing Gomes to take second. He later came around on a bunt and a sac fly. "The last thing you want to do is set it up for another run for them," Maddon said.
As the Rays keep searching for a way out, the frustration mounts.
"Can't dwell on it," Price said. "We've got 20 games left, 19, however many we have left. You dwell now, we'll be hanging out in October."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.