ST. PETERSBURG — Josh Beckett's ankle and Erik Bedard's knee aren't going to matter if the Rays don't get their butts in gear.
The optimism that was spreading among the Rays on Tuesday afternoon over the potential benefit of the Red Sox's latest pitching issues — "A pretty good hit," manager Joe Maddon said — quickly dissipated by the end of the night.
It wasn't just that the Rays lost badly, 8-0 to the Rangers, but how bad they looked in doing so.
Starter Jeff Niemann provided arguably his worst start of the season, failing to get through five innings while allowing seven runs on nine hits, including a homer to start the game and another to lead off the second.
"It's really frustrating on a lot of different levels," Niemann said. "I definitely didn't put us in a good position at any point in the game."
And the offense, despite some tweaks and changes to the lineup, was rendered as feeble and effete as usual against Rangers starter C.J. — though against the Rays it seems to be CY — Wilson, managing just five singles (and hitting into four double plays) while being shut out for an AL-high 14th time.
"We just can't figure him out," Evan Longoria said. "It's been two years now. I don't what it is. … It is a familiar ring. It's frustrating."
Making it all worse, the Red Sox showed absolutely no signs of worry, with a 14-0 blasting of Toronto to expand their wild-card lead over the Rays to eight games, and with only 21 to play. That means if the Sox go just 10-11, the Rays have to go 18-3 to tie. Even if the Sox go 5-16, the Rays, who also have seven games with the Yankees, have to go 13-8.
Maddon was talking somewhat optimistically before Tuesday's game about the possibility of running down the Red Sox. He noted how he's resting his key players so they'll be fresh for the full month, that they have three games with the Sox at home this weekend and four next week in Boston, and how the injuries are mounting for the Sox.
"They're having a moment," he said. "Their pitching is in tough shape, and they'd be the first ones to tell you that."
But, he also acknowledged the reality that the Rays "have to take care of our own business. Regardless of what's going on there, we have to come out and play a great game."
And that's where they failed miserably, in front of a Tropicana Field gathering of 11,611.
Niemann was falling behind hitters from the start, unable to keep his pitches down and ineffective without his good curve. The results were uncomfortable, but not unfamiliar — he had pretty much the same problems his last time out against Texas.
"It was kind of the exact same thing," Niemann said. "It was a struggle for me early tonight."
Like Niemann, Wilson also had pretty much the same game he did on Thursday in Arlington, except this time he got to finish, earning his first complete game shutout and improving to 4-0, 2.25 against the Rays plus a playoffs win.
To put in context how badly the Rays have done, with five hits they increased their collective average against Wilson — and his six-pitch repertoire — from .121 to .134.
"He does not miss against us," Maddon said. "He's been disgustingly consistent against us. He's just on top of his game whenever he sees us in the batter's box."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]