ARLINGTON, Texas — The Rays had reason to be frustrated Thursday night after another abysmal offensive performance led to a 7-2 loss to Texas that knocked them back to the fringe of playoff contention.
But they should have been happy the loss wasn't more embarrassing. They were held without even a baserunner for the first five innings. First baseman Casey Kotchman, the only lefty in the lineup, broke through against Rangers starter C.J. Wilson with an infield single to start the sixth inning.
"He had no-hit stuff," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Wilson. "We were getting bad swings, and the ball was jumping."
As impotent and inconsistent as the Rays have been at the plate this season, they at least have not had the indignity of being no-hit, as they were once in 2009 and twice in 2010. Thursday, though, was the fifth time they'd been held hitless through five innings, and they've had two games with only one hit.
Thursday they finished with four hits: Kelly Shoppach hit a solo homer after Kotchman was erased on a double play, Matt Joyce delivered a two-out single in the seventh and Ben Zobrist singled in the ninth. For the three games at the usually offensive Ballpark in Arlington, the Rays had six runs and 13 hits.
"We just haven't been able to rustle up enough offense on a consistent basis," Maddon said, "using the 'rustle up' term being that I'm in Texas."
"That's been the story of the season: the offense," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "It's very frustrating, especially when we know it's there, and we've seen it at times, and it's been so inconsistent. Disappointing overall."
Maddon pitched it as a positive that they went 4-3 on the road trip to Toronto and Texas. And he insisted the Rays still have a chance to get back to the playoffs, though he acknowledged for the first time it's a second-tier goal, but it seems more mathematical and semantical than actual.
Thursday's loss, their third in their past four games, dropped them to 74-62 and back to 8½ games from the wild-card-leading Yankees with 26 to play. If the Yankees, who beat Boston 4-2 on Thursday night, finish 14-13, the Rays have to go 22-4 to tie. If New York goes just 10-17, the Rays still have to be 18-8.
"It's no fun," Maddon said. "But until the math tells me otherwise … even if we cannot arrive at that point, my second goal would be then to have the third-best record in the American League, and that's definitely within out reach."
The Rays didn't pitch well, either, Thursday. Jeff Niemann struggled to get through five innings, allowing five runs, including a pair of homers, and the bullpen did not provide much relief.
But the Rays did play dazzling defense, with centerfielder B.J. Upton making a pair of running catches and rightfielder Matt Joyce leaping at the rightfield wall to rob Adrian Beltre of a home run.
"That's one of the best feelings," Joyce said. "If you can't hit a home run, might as well rob one."
Wilson had the Rays off-balance from the start, and they went 15 up and 15 down, seven of the outs by strikeouts.
"Being perfect-gamed, it's obviously going to be a frustrating and tough first five innings for us," Joyce said.
Kotchman bounced a ball up the middle that Wilson touched, leaving him with a numb finger that pretty much ended his night and a runner on base. "I will second-guess that Casey Kotchman at-bat for the rest of my career," Wilson said.
Had he made the play, the Rays might have been the ones who'd never forget.