Whether motivated by genuine emotion or basic psychology, Joe Maddon put his Good Cop hat back on Monday.
Two days after chastising his team for its sloppy play in a victory against the Royals, Maddon repeatedly praised the Rays' effort and intensity in the wake of a 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays that was marked by more offensive impotence.
The Rays went hitless in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position and stranded nine runners after Toronto starter A.J. Burnett had provided ample opportunities. Their inability to get the job done wasted a fine start from James Shields, who was as frustrated after the game as Andy Sonnanstine had been the previous day.
Nonetheless, Maddon stuck to his guns. He acknowledged the Rays' continued failure to capitalize on scoring chances, but that was about it when it came to criticism.
"I really liked the way we played tonight - a lot," Maddon said. "I really liked the way we ran, the way we played defense, the little things 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, that kind of effort. I loved it - absolutely loved it."
Maddon loved the defensive work by Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria and Eric Hinske. He loved Carl Crawford stepping outside his comfort zone to attempt a bunt in the third inning, and Crawford hustling to turn a ball that would have been a single for many into a double in the fifth. He loved B.J. Upton trying to make a play by diving for a ball that ended up as a triple.
Nonetheless, it would do the Rays' position players and pitchers alike a world of good for the hitters to somehow shake off the paralysis that sets in when a Ray reaches second or third base.
Their only run Monday came in the third inning, which Akinori Iwamura and Upton opened with singles before a bad call by third-base umpire Mike Winters loaded the bases. Crawford laid down a rare bunt, but it went straight back to Burnett. The pitcher had time to go to third, but his throw pulled Scott Rolen off the bag. Replays showed Rolen still was able to tag the sliding Iwamura, but Winters didn't see it that way, calling him safe.
"I never bunt, so I tried to catch them off-guard," Crawford said. "I got a bad bunt, but we still got lucky."
The Rays had a breakout inning staring them in the face but couldn't take advantage of it. After Evan Longoria struck out, Carlos Pena grounded to first, permitting a run to score, but Cliff Floyd then struck out to end that threat.
Tampa Bay already had left the bases loaded to end the second inning, and would later waste a first-and-third, one-out opportunity in the seventh when Longoria grounded into a double play on Burnett's final pitch.
"When you get him bases loaded, you've got to cash in," Upton said. "But at the same time, he made some good pitches."
Nasty as Burnett was in striking out 10 Rays batters, Shields was pretty sharp himself. He cut the Jays down in order five times in the first seven innings, didn't walk a batter, and appeared on track to go the distance but was undone by three big swings.
The first was his first pitch to Matt Stairs in the fifth, which the slugger crushed to center for a two-run homer.
"The pitch to Stairs was a great pitch," Shields said. "If you go back and look at it, it's down and away, it's at the knees - he just went out and got it."
That drive put the Blue Jays on top 2-1, and they would pad it in the eighth when Brad Wilkerson and Joe Inglett produced back-to-back triples with one out. Upton missed on a diving attempt at Wilkerson's drive, and Inglett's cleared his head before one-hopping the fence.
Asked if Upton should have played it safe, Maddon responded quickly. "I don't want us to do anything safe," he said. "Safe makes you go home and watch games on TV. I want us to be risk-takers."