ST. PETERSBURG — This is why the Rays need Roy Halladay. This is why they need Cliff Lee.
The biggest game of the year has turned into the biggest disappointment. The Yankees are running off the field and into the distance, their division lead a little fatter, their season a little sweeter. The Rays, on the other hand, have again looked like a team going nowhere.
This is why they should make a trade. This is why they should try to draw an ace.
If Monday night's 11-4 loss to the Yankees doesn't say that to you, then don't the 99 uneven games that came beforehand?
This one was the worst, of course, because this game was — and this series is — the most important of the season. How big is this series? Put it this way: If last season had never happened — and it gets harder to remember all the time — this would be the biggest series in team history.
After all, going into it, the Rays were trying to play their way back into the division race, remember? If not that, they had a chance to make a run at the wild card. And if not that, they could still convince their front office to be buyers instead of sellers as the trade deadline approaches. And if not that, they could at least put off conversation about the Bucs for another week or so.
A good showing in these three games and all things would still seem possible.
Instead, the playoffs seem a little further away this morning, don't they?
This is why the clubhouse could use a jolt. This is why the Rays could use that infusion of energy that comes with the arrival of a gunslinger.
Someone like Halladay.
Someone like Lee.
Someone like Victor Martinez.
Those are the three big names. Those are the possible imports that would make this season — and next — more interesting. Those are the three that would be the front-office version of a home run in the bottom of the ninth.
Would any of them have changed things Monday night? Probably not. You've seen this performance by the Rays too many times this season. The hitting dried up … again. The starting pitching could have been better … again. The defense could have been tighter … again.
By now, however, this has happened too many times to believe the Rays will simply wake up one day and snap out of it, and the strikeouts will go away and the defense will be as good as it was last year and the Rays will go on a tear. This time, maybe the Rays need to hire from outside.
If so, Halladay is a good place to start, and Lee is an acceptable fallback position.
For all the talk about the talent in the Rays' rotation, at this point they don't have an ace. Not when James Shields is 6-7, Scott Kazmir is 4-6 and Matt Garza is 7-7. Not when Jeff Niemann and David Price are rookies.
Shields, of course, was supposed to be the ace, and yes, there have been times this season when his lack of run support has made you wonder whether his teammates are ticked at him.
You know how some pitchers seem to make hitters go weak at the knees whenever they see him? Evidently, Shields has that affect on the Rays' hitters, too. Every time he pitches, it's like Big Game James is surrounded by a lineup of No Support Morts. Consider Monday night, when the Rays had one hit and no runs while Shields was on the mound.
But Shields has had his struggles, too. He's second in the American League in hits allowed. Opponents are hitting .279 against him. He hasn't won in his last seven starts.
It isn't asking too much for the ace of a good team to be better than that. He has to keep his team closer than five runs by the time the sixth inning is three pitches old.
Ah, but might Shields (and everyone else) be a bit better if they were pushed a step back in the rotation? Of course.
I know, I know. It's easy to endorse the notion of a trade without knowing exactly what the other team would want in return. But what did teams want last year? They wanted Wade Davis. They wanted Reid Brignac. Really, isn't that the reason a team has prospects?
This morning, that price doesn't seem too high, does it?
Not if you believe the day can be saved.