Winning ways in Toronto, though no win
Shields strong early, falters late as Rays keep slim lead in East
TORONTO -- Joe Maddon pulled out the rose-colored glasses after Monday night's tough 3-1 loss to Toronto in front of a crowd of 23,476 at Rogers Centre.
"I really liked the way we played tonight a lot," the Rays manager said. "I really liked our game playing tonight. The way we ran, the way we played defense, little things that we did and were trying to do. I loved it. If we keep doing what we did tonight, even though it was a loss, I believe that's the kind of game that's going to get us into the playoffs. I loved it, absolutely loved it."
In losing, the Rays moved to 2-3 on the current road trip while falling to 61-44 on the season. On the bright side, they did not lose any ground to the Red Sox or Yankees, who lost to the Angels and Orioles, respectively.
A.J. Burnett came out smoking for the Blue Jays on Monday night, striking out the first three batters he faced. Evan Longoria greeted Burnett with an infield single to lead off the second before Carlos Pena became Burnett's fourth strikeout victim before Cliff Floyd singled. Once again Burnett reached back for something extra and got Dioner Navarro to strike out for the second out. Eric Hinske then walked to load the bases.
This is where a team not in a funk does what's necessary to take advantage of a talented pitcher who finds himself in a hole: Bases loaded and opportunity knocking. Unfortunately the Rays' lineup seemed to have passed a couple of black cats on their way to the ballpark, because they just aren't hitting. Following that storyline, Jason Bartlett grounded out to first to end the threat.
Once again, the Rays loaded the bases in the third against Burnett, this time with none out. And once again the Rays could not get the big outburst they so desperately wanted and needed. After loading the bases on a throwing error, Burnett struck out Longoria, and Pena grounded out to first, scoring Akinori Iwamura from third to put the Rays up, 1-0. That was all the Rays would get, as the Jays right-hander ended the threat by striking out Floyd.
Bases loaded, two innings in a row and the Rays come away with just one run. You can say it again: The offense is struggling.
"You get [the pitcher] bases-loaded, you've got to cash in," B.J. Upton said. "But at the same time, Burnett made some good pitches today. He pitched real well today, he had everything working. His sinker, he was spotting up, and his curveball was definitely ridiculous. So he definitely made it tough for us. He threw a good game. You have to tip your hat to him."
James Shields started for the Rays and looked every bit as good as Burnett throughout most of his start, allowing three runs on five hits while walking none and striking out five.
"I did what I needed to do, I pitched well tonight," Shields said. "I actually didn't feel too good before the game. Coming out of the bullpen, I cut my [session] short, didn't really feel good at all. Once I got out there I felt pretty good."
Unfortunately for Shields, one pitch did him in Monday night. That pitch occurred in the fifth inning after Rod Barajas led off with a single to bring up Matt Stairs. Shields delivered, and the veteran designated hitter swung at the first offering, sending a drive to center field for his 11th home run of the season, giving the Jays the 2-1 lead.
Shields clearly appeared frustrated after the game, if for no other reason than for the fact Stairs hit a pitch that was not a mistake.
"The pitch to Stairs was a great pitch," Shields said. "If you go back and look at [the pitch] it was down and away at the knees. He just went out and got it. He's a good hitter."
By falling behind, 2-1, the Rays seemed to be facing an insurmountable deficit. Burnett went on to allow just one run in seven innings (unearned), holding the Rays to six hits while walking four and striking out 10. Scott Downs then retired the Rays in order in the eighth and the Jays padded their lead in the bottom half of the inning with back-to-back triples by Brad Wilkerson and Joe Inglett.
B.J. Ryan pitched a scoreless ninth to finish off the Rays' hopes for a comeback while earning his 20th save of the season.
Despite the loss, Upton bought into Maddon's postgame praise of his team's effort.
"I mean, we keep playing like we're playing and leaving it out there, we're going to win," Upton said. "The last couple of weeks have been tough. But we're definitely staying above water. Keep doing what we've been doing, play hard and let it all play out."
For the length of the current season, the Rays have found frustration while waiting for their offense to come around. With roughly two months left in the season, it might not yet come around, which might be a reality the Rays have to deal with and overcome.
"We've been saying the offense is going to come around at some point, and it hasn't," Crawford said. "I hope the offense comes around, but who's to say that it will? We just have to keep on preparing ourselves for the game and try to make something happen."
Upton acknowledged the sleeping offense as a possibility, but then dismissed it.
"I don't think anybody in here thinks that's going to happen," Upton said. "I think at some point we're all going to start clicking at the same time."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.