The Rays had enough trouble keeping up with the Joneses (Andruw and Chipper) Tuesday night. Greg Maddux was just too much.
With Atlanta's marquee players blocking their way, the Rays were unable to complete what would have been a stunning series sweep and lost to Atlanta 4-0.
Chipper and Andruw Jones hit home runs off Tanyon Sturtze, who otherwise pitched well. But Maddux was magnificent, allowing just six singles (four of which didn't leave the infield) and striking out nine in a 100-pitch complete game.
"Vintage, I guess," Rays manager Hal McRae said. "He's pitched that well a few times in his career. A typical outing for him when he's on."
"He just seems to never give in and very rarely makes a mistake out over the plate where you can hurt him," Greg Vaughn said. "I don't know, man. It's just different facing him.
"He doesn't overpower you, but he throws the ball and it just disappears sometimes. He cuts it away, he runs it in, he takes something off. He pitches. If there's a definition of a pitcher, it's definitely him."
As disappointing as the loss was, at least the pain didn't last long; at 2 hours, 3 minutes, it was the shortest game in Rays history.
The weeklong journey to Montreal and Atlanta was a relatively successful start to the second half for the Rays. They went 3-3, their first .500 or better trip of the season. They won two of three against the Braves to log their first road series win of the season. They finished interleague play with a 10-8 record, the best in their four seasons.
"Right now with us, we have to find as many positives as we can," Vaughn said. "We won the series, we won two out of three. If you'd asked everyone before we got here if we ever had a chance, they'd probably say you guys won't even win a game."
Said McRae: "They knew we were here."
Sturtze did his best to keep the Rays in the game and didn't allow a hit until Chipper Jones knocked a 1-and-0 changeup into the right-centerfield seats with two outs in the fourth.
The next hit he gave up was a single to Maddux, who lined an 0-and-2 pitch into rightfield to open the sixth. He went to second on a bunt and scored when B.J. Surhoff lined a soft single to center.
But when Andruw Jones crushed a 2-and-1 pitch deep into the leftfield seats, the Braves had a 4-0 lead and Maddux had the game in hand.
"He's a great pitcher and you know you can't give in," Sturtze said. "You know he's going to put up zeros. You might sneak one or two off of him, but he's probably the best pitcher in the game. I was just trying to keep it close, but I made a bad pitch to Andruw and it's pretty much over with him pitching."
Even the Braves were amazed at what they saw.
"He was awesome, another step closer to the Hall of Fame," pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. "You're always amazed at the consistency of excellence. We've had the privilege of watching him pitch a long time and he still boggles the mind."
Even with Maddux's mastery, the Rays had some chances.
They got their first baserunner in the third when Sturtze, of all people, got an infield single, his first hit in eight career big-league at-bats.
"It kinda goes wasted," Sturtze said. "I'd rather have pitched better than get the hit. But it's nice to get a hit off a guy that's going to be in the Hall of Fame, that's for sure."
The Rays had runners on first and second with one out in the fourth, but Aubrey Huff grounded into a double play, with Atlanta first baseman Ken Caminiti making a diving catch of the relay.
They had the same situation in the sixth after a bunt single by Randy Winn and a generously scored infield single by Ben Grieve. But Vaughn flied out and Fred McGriff, who had homered to beat the Braves the two previous games, chased a 1-and-2 pitch that Maddux left just out of his reach.
"He's got pinpoint control," McRae said. "He changes speeds and he does some things, but what he really does is throw strikes when he wants to throw strikes and balls when he wants to throw balls. That's the key to pitching, and he does it as well as anybody."