Rays can't find their old ways against A's
Davis struggles early, as team's five-game win streak ends
OAKLAND -- This time, the Tampa Bay Rays picked a bad day to face Oakland A's right-hander Ben Sheets.
After knocking Sheets around at Tropicana Field last month in an 8-6 win, the Rays suffered a 4-2 loss Saturday in the rematch.
Sheets struck out eight and allowed just four hits and two runs over 6 1/3 innings. The A's, meanwhile, got to Rays starter Wade Davis for three quick runs -- two in the first and one in the second, and that was enough.
Just like that, the Rays remembered what it's like to lose and, more specifically, lose on the road.
The Rays fell to 22-8 overall, still baseball's best record, and had their five-game winning streak snapped. They lost for just the second time this season in 15 road games.
And for the first time since April 23, a Rays starting pitcher suffered a loss.
"He could never really get into any kind of a groove, but, he kept them to three runs in spite of all that," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Davis. "Battled through almost 100 pitches, kept them to three runs.
"I thought Sheets got better as the game was in progress. He really got a rhythm going. He had better command of the breaking ball plus his changeup to the left-handers. He pitched well. He pitched really well. He found his rhythm and Wade just couldn't."
This was Davis' second start against the A's this season and second matchup with Sheets. On April 27 at Tropicana Field, he picked up the win despite giving up seven hits and four runs over five innings.
This time, Davis lasted only five innings again against the A's. He gave up six hits and three runs before giving way to Lance Cormier.
"My off-speed [pitches], I wasn't executing like I wanted to," said Davis, who fell to 3-2. "I just kind of wasn't getting those quick outs, and it cost me a lot of pitches. Especially early in the game I've got to get some quick outs and I didn't. I fell behind."
During their fast start this season, the Rays have made a habit of coming through with huge, timely hits. Not this time.
Trailing 3-2, they had a great chance to either knot the score or move ahead in the seventh but came up empty.
Tampa Bay had runners on second and third with one out after Reid Brignac's double off reliever Michael Wuertz moved John Jaso to third.
But Jason Bartlett grounded to third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, who quickly threw home, and the A's eventually tagged out Jaso after a rundown. Then left-hander Jerry Blevins came in to face the left-handed hitting Carl Crawford and struck him out swinging.
"He's got a good little slider," Bartlett said of Wuertz. "I knew it was coming."
But he still couldn't hit it hard.
The A's quickly jumped on Davis, scoring twice in the first inning.
A's shortstop Cliff Pennington lined a single to lead off the first, raced to third on Davis' errant pickoff throw and scored on Ryan Sweeney's sharp single to center. Kouzmanoff then hammered an opposite-field double to right, moving Sweeney to third, and Eric Chavez made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly to deep left-center.
"It was one of those games if I execute a couple pitches and get a popup here and get an out here, that I go six or seven innings and allow one or two runs," Davis said. "Unfortunately I didn't."
The Rays answered with two runs in the second. B.J. Upton got the rally started with a one-out single. He moved to second on a fielder's choice, stole third and scored on Jaso's single. After Brignac walked, Bartlett roped a double down the left-field line, scoring Jaso.
After that, Sheets gave up just one more hit in his stint.
"He was throwing his offspeed pitches for strikes and he had a very good fastball today," said Rays first baseman Carlos Pena, who struck out twice against Sheets.
The A's moved ahead 3-2 in the bottom of the second, using a Gabe Gross single, two walks and Daric Barton's sacrifice fly. Then they added a run in the seventh, and the Rays had no answer.
"We just couldn't get it done today," Maddon said. "It's not going to happen every night. But still, I liked the battle, I liked the effort. That's what I'm really locked into. Good effort today, did a lot of good things on defense, actually. They just beat us."
That's something the Rays haven't had to say too often this season.
"We didn't give up," Bartlett said. "We just didn't get the clutch hit today. Come back [Sunday] and win the series."
Eric Gilmore is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.