ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have lit a holistic candle, said their prayers, and jokingly referred to curses and demons when it comes to their recent stretch of weird injuries and occurrences.
But after the frustratingly maddening way Tampa Bay's final rally ended in its 2-0 loss to the Braves on Sunday, getting shut out for the first time this year, designated hitter Luke Scott had another suggestion.
"Let's find the witch doctor and behead him and throw his body into the bay," Scott quipped.
Scott thought he was going to tie the score in the bottom of the eighth, when the Rays (25-17) had the bases loaded with two outs. But Scott's hard-hit grounder, which appeared headed to rightfield, struck Carlos Peña's right ankle as he was racing toward second base, resulting in interference and the final out. Braves second baseman Dan Uggla didn't know if he would have gotten to the ball.
"I got lucky," Braves reliever Jonny Venters said.
Scott, who was credited with a single, never made it to first base, looking to the sky before tossing his bat in the air.
"If I didn't have that much pine tar on my bat, I probably would have hit the top of the roof," Scott said. "I just couldn't believe it."
Neither could Peña, who broke for second on Scott's two-strike swing and had no time to react as the ball hit him in stride.
"It's just a helpless feeling because I couldn't go anywhere; I was in the air when the ball hit me," Peña said. "It was a rocket. It's just bad luck."
The Rays have had their share, with nine players currently on the disabled list, infielder Jeff Keppinger arriving Sunday morning in a walking boot due to a right foot injury, and Jose Molina leaving in the seventh after taking a foul tip off his catcher's mask. Peña said his ankle was "throbbing" for a minute after getting hit, though he said he was fine later.
Tampa Bay, buoyed by an impressive start by left-hander David Price, was still in the game. Price mixed his pitches well, allowing just two runs in seven innings, keeping the Rays in it as Braves veteran righty Tim Hudson threw a gem, 7? scoreless. Third baseman Sean Rodriguez helped Price with a spectacular defensive play in the fifth, making a diving stab down the line and one-hop throw to Peña to retire David Ross.
"Sean has made some unreal plays," Peña said. "And (Sunday) was no exception."
The Rays had their best chance to crack Hudson in the sixth, thanks to a two-out rally that loaded the bases for Peña. Peña then thought he had a grand slam, but his long drive to center was caught on the warning track due to backspin.
"I crushed it," Peña said. "It just had the spin where it came right down to him. But I knew as soon as I made contact, it had a shot to first be out of the park, or least over his head. So I was very disappointed."
The Rays have lost three of their past four, remaining two games behind first-place Baltimore in the American League East. Peña said the team will be better when it overcomes its recent adversity, no matter what challenges or injuries come next.
Joked Scott: "I may have to play a little middle infield pretty soon."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.