ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays continue to cling to the hope that, despite the increasingly large uphill climb to the postseason, they still have a hot streak in them that can put them in October.
"There's no doubt we can make a run," veteran Johnny Damon said.
But after another loss Tuesday night, 3-1 to the Blue Jays in front of 13,333 at Tropicana Field, it appears they're running out of time.
And with a defeat tonight, Tampa Bay would add Toronto as another team it has to chase, being just a half-game from falling into fourth place in the AL East. The Rays (56-52) fell 11 games behind the first-place Red Sox and 10 behind the wild-card-leading Yankeees.
"Tonight wasn't too fun," Damon said. "Everyone really needs to step it up and be better."
Left-hander David Price did his part, delivering a strong 62/3-inning performance, allowing three runs (two via homers). It was his first career loss to Toronto in 10 starts, but he has been given just one run of support over his past three outings.
"Definitely pitched well enough to win," manager Joe Maddon said. "I'll take that every time he pitches. … That's outstanding."
But the Rays offense continued its seemingly season-long funk, held to just three hits, with their first in the sixth inning on a Desmond Jennings homer. They continued to be at their worst with the bases loaded and no outs, squandering another such opportunity in the second against lefty Ricky Romero. Romero struck out Matt Joyce and Kelly Shoppach before getting Sean Rodriguez to ground into a forceout to third.
The Rays have just four hits in their past 27 plate appearances with the bases loaded and have been held scoreless six of their past seven times having the bases full with no outs.
"It's happened way too often," Maddon said. "Even just to move the ball right there is all you're looking for. The hitters are trying, believe me, they're trying. It's just not working right now. That has been a difficult moment for us, you'd like to think you put the other team in a bases-loaded situation, you're in pretty good shape. It's actually worked against us. It's kind of crazy."
Damon said Romero, who has allowed just one run over his past two starts, was as good as he has ever seen him. "Ricky seemed to be pretty much in control of what he wanted to do," he said.
The Rays would get one last chance, starting a two-out ninth-inning rally with singles by Casey Kotchman and B.J. Upton, putting runners on first and third against closer Jon Rauch.
But on a 3-and-0 count, Joyce got the green light and flied out to leftfield to end the game. Maddon liked Joyce swinging there because of the expected fastball and how "(Joyce) hits homers."
Instead, the Rays were held to one run or fewer for the 20th time this season, 11th at the Trop.
"You have to keep pounding on the door until it actually opens up," Maddon said. "And we have to keep pounding on that offensive door until it wants to open up for us."
Before it's too late.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]