CLEVELAND — The Rays' puzzling struggles at Progressive Field were enough to be frustrated with.
"The Curse of the Rays," as James Shields put it.
Then compound that with a near three-hour rain delay in the middle of Thursday's game with the Indians, as the tarp was rolled on — and taken off — twice, making for their fourth weather-related delay in their past five games. "It was really harsh," manager Joe Maddon said.
But more bothersome were the results, with the Rays losing 2-1 to the last-place Indians, extending their seasonlong losing streak to five and their club-record stretch of 17 straight at Progressive Field (dating to September 2005).
"We've got to stop the bleeding — that's it," said Shields, who starts tonight's series opener with the Twins at Tropicana Field. "Bottom line is that we've got to get better. Not just here, everywhere. We've got to get back to the basics and play the 'Rays Way' of baseball. That's playing small ball and putting everything together."
The Indians (21-28), who entered this series with the AL's worst record, beat the defending AL champs in different ways in the four-game sweep, from the improbable comeback (Monday) to outpitching the Rays (Tuesday and Thursday).
And now Tampa Bay (23-27), inching closer to last place in the AL East (six games behind the Red Sox), ended a seven-game trip, which started out fruitful but turned into forgettable in losing five straight games and five players to the disabled list.
"It's been a long last five days," Ben Zobrist said. "We just feel bad as a team right now — things aren't going exactly the way we want it to. But we're going to pick it up."
Rookie right-hander Jeff Niemann (4-4) looked as if he would pick the Rays up with a solid performance, and he did well in a strong — albeit brief — outing, giving up one run and striking out four (one shy of his season high) in a tough-luck loss.
Niemann lasted just three innings, but it was due to the 2-hour, 40-minute rain delay that long reliever Lance Cormier replaced him in the fourth. Cormier did well, giving up one run (on a Victor Martinez two-out RBI single in the fifth) over three innings, and J.P. Howell retired the six batters he faced (three strikeouts).
But the Rays couldn't put together the key hit, going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. They scored their only run on a solo homer by Willy Aybar, whose shot to rightfield in the sixth was confirmed via instant replay.
The Rays had a chance in the seventh when B.J. Upton reached on an infield single and stole second. But Evan Longoria struck out swinging to end the threat.
There were some bright spots — with Zobrist, Aybar and Carl Crawford picking up two hits apiece — but they weren't enough.
"We just didn't hit," Zobrist said. "We hit great (Wednesday); we hit great a few days here; we just didn't (Thursday). There's no greater explanation. You just have to keep plugging away. We know its going to come together. …
"We're definitely glad we're not coming back here again this year."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.