ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays had a chance Sunday to sweep Texas and pull even for second place in the wild-card race, but they whiffed.
And whiffed, and whiffed, and whiffed.
Fifteen strikeouts, their most this season in a regulation game, were a big part of the problem in the 4-0 loss, as they got only five hits and were shut out a home for the first time since April — 2008.
"Definitely disappointing," Carlos Peña said. "We really wanted to take this game and go for the sweep, but it didn't happen."
The loss left the Rays (67-56) two games behind the Rangers and three games behind the wild-card-leading Red Sox. The Rays headed to Toronto dressed in black for their latest themed trip (Johnny Cash/Ring of Fire), but there was no symbolic mourning of missed opportunity.
If anything, they took some solace in going 6-3 at home and holding ground against the teams they are chasing, if not the schedule, which shows 39 games left.
"If you think about two out of three in each series, before the homestand began you would say, 'Take it,' " manager Joe Maddon said. "When you get a chance to do better than that obviously at the end that presents a different tone to the entire situation. But at the end of the day you have to understand and realize it was actually an excellent homestand."
They were fortunate to do that well considering they got one hit — Peña's 10th-inning single Saturday — for the weekend in 25 at-bats with runners in scoring position (including 0-for-8 Sunday).
"That's unbelievable, isn't it?" Maddon said. "It also speaks to their pitching. Their pitching is really that good."
The Rangers have to show they can keep it up through the heat of September, but they were that good Sunday, as Scott Feldman got his 13th win with seven crisp innings, allowing just four singles and striking out a career-high 11.
Maddon twice referred to it as "the best pitched game against us all year," though Chicago's Mark Buehrle, who spun a perfect game July 23, might have a decent argument.
But the point was that Feldman was very good, and the Rays couldn't do much about it, as every starter but Gregg Zaun struck out at least once.
"He was really on," Peña said. "I was on second and I saw a pitch he threw to B.J. (Upton) and, wow! I thought to myself, 'That's unhittable.' "
David Price didn't do as well, but he didn't do badly. He allowed two runs when red-hot right-handed hitter Michael Young laced a ball between Peña and first base, and another when Ivan Rodriguez's smash to third took a funky bounce over Evan Longoria's head — "It hit something," he said — for a double.
The Rays sense the Rangers are legit foes, and head out for seven games in Toronto and Detroit aware of their shortcomings on the road but unsure how to change their luck, aside from changing their look.
"Hopefully the black hair is going to have something to do with that," said the recently dyed Maddon. "I'm really looking for all these different possible cures, so I went with the black hair. And if this actually does work, it's going to make it a lot easier in the future."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org