ST. PETERSBURG — That dizzying night against the Yankees a few weeks ago when the Rays won to take that last step to .500 seems like light years ago, replaced by a one-step up, two-steps back mode that has them moving in the other direction.
On Sunday, the Rays managed three hits against Clay Buchholz and lost to the Red Sox 3-0 in front of 16,822 at Tropicana Field.
That loss came on the heels of a 7-0 victory when the Rays looked like world-beaters behind the combined one-hitter from Jake Odorizzi, Jeff Beliveau and Kirby Yates.
“That’s not really what we planned or we expected to go out and have that kind of performance, so that’s a little tough to swallow.” Matt Joyce said. “That’s the way the game goes sometimes. It’s tough.”
The loss also continued a disheartening trend for the Rays, who have a club record 18 shutouts this season. They have five wins in the 18 games that followed those shutouts.
“I have no idea what that means,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “To me that means we’re facing a good pitcher on the next day.”
Sometimes, yes. They have lost to C.J. Wilson of the Angels and now Buchholz. They’ve also lost to White Sox rookie Scott Carroll, who was making his major-league debut.
What does it mean? Probably nothing more than an interesting stat in a mind-numbing season.
“It’s tough to put a finger on it,” Joyce said.
It’s also prevented the Rays from sustaining any long-term momentum, which they desperately needed after they evened their season record. Once they caught themselves, it was time to start catching the teams further up in the standings.
But that hasn’t happened.
The Rays responded with 10 losses in their next 15 games, a run that includes Sunday’s loss.
They begin September with a magic number of 16 — the number of victories needed to finish with a winning record. That would give the Rays seven straight winning seasons, something only the Yankees and Cardinals can boast, assuming those two teams keep winning.
And given the depths the Rays sank to this season — 18 games under .500 at one point — it would be a nice finish to a lost season.
Maddon is really the only one still beating the playoffs-are-possible drum in the Rays’ clubhouse, and even that beat grows fainter with each loss.
He worked it again into his postgame presser Sunday, but admitted the Rays will have to pull off a nearly impossible feat to gain entry to October baseball.
“We got to go Colorado Rockies on them right now,” Maddon said. “We got to channel our inner Rockies right now.”
He was referring to the 2007 Rockies, who won 13 of their final 14 games to force a one-game playoff with the Padres for the NL wild card. The Rockies won in walk-off fashion and continued the roll all the way to the World Series.
It would take a better-than-the-’07-Rockies ending for the Rays to reach the postseason, since they need to win 23 of their remaining 25 games to reach 89 wins.
“The last time we got on a good roll, that just showed up also,” Maddon said. “That was a residue of just playing hard.”
That roll was light years away, too.
Alex Cobb, who took the loss Sunday, talked afterward about next season being a goal for this September.
“The biggest thing is you want to see the guys finish strong,” he said. “We have a lot of (pitchers) that haven’t gotten the amount of innings that they’re at right now. This is a big test right now to get to that next barrier of deeper, longer innings, upwards of 150-plus, hopefully, setting it up for a run next year in September, also.
“You have to get to this step to get even further next year in your innings count. Just finish strong with September coming up and get bigger and better next year.”