ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have beaten their share of star pitchers this season, including reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander twice along with the four All-Stars the Angels trotted out in last weekend's series.
But Tampa Bay hasn't been able to crack Royals right-hander Luke Hochevar, and it once again cost them in Tuesday's 1-0 loss in 10 innings in front of 10,877 at Tropicana Field. It was the Rays' club-record third 1-0 loss this season, all this month.
"That's truly the best I've ever seen him," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's really unfortunate because those 1-0 losses are kicking our butt a little bit; that really shouldn't happen. We got to figure out a way to score one run somehow in nine innings."
It spoiled another spectacular performance by lefty David Price, who pitched eight shutout innings and continued to make his case for the AL Cy Young. The recently resurgent Rays offense managed one hit against Hochevar, who hasn't allowed a run in 17 innings against Tampa Bay this year.
Along with snapping the Rays' five-game winning streak, the loss cut their wild-card lead to a game over the Orioles and prevented them from pulling to within three games of the AL East-leading Yankees.
"We don't want to take anything away from a gem, because that's exactly what he threw today," Carlos Peña said of Hochevar. "The disappointing thing was we had a gem of our own in Price. And it just hurts when a game like this gets away from us."
The Royals' winning rally came in the 10th, when a Ben Zobrist throw from deep in the hole at short got away from Peña at first, putting Jeff Francoeur at second with two outs. The one-hop throw pulled Peña off the base, and Peña couldn't keep it in front of him. Eric Hosmer hit a bloop single to center.
Peña said with Francoeur appearing to be running inside the baseline on the infield grass, he felt he had to come around him and make a backhanded play to avoid a collision.
"My No. 1 priority was to stop that ball and I didn't," Peña said. "And it cost us."
So did the Rays' missed opportunities at the plate. Tampa Bay (68-55) had its regular lineup for the first time since April, as Evan Longoria moved back to third and DH Luke Scott came off the disabled list.
Their one shot came in the third, when Scott led off with a double and advanced to third with one out on a flyout to center by Ryan Roberts. Desmond Jennings and Jose Molina struck out, two of 10 by Hochevar.
Hochevar, who has a 5.61 ERA in his other 23 starts, said he had his best fastball command of the year, just enough to hang with Price.
"There are probably six legitimate No. 1s in this league, and he's one of them," Royals manager Ned Yost said of Price. "I just knew that I would put the defense out there and rely on (Hochevar), and that's exactly what I did."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]