Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 8/5/12
The dogs were out in force Sunday for a Tampa Bay Rays' promotion called Bark In the Park. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a dog day afternoon for the Rays' offense, which had no bark or bite for the second straight game. And that wasted another pedigree performance by top-dog David Price. One weekend after pinning back-to-back zeroes on the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, the Rays allowed it to be done to them at home at the Trop by division rival Baltimore. Suddenly, the team that has been living by the shutout starting off the series Friday night with their fourth in six outings is suddenly dying by them. Make that 21 straight innings without a run scored for Tampa Bay's 0-ffense. The Rays' 1-0 loss to the Birds in 10 innings, on the heels of Saturday's 4-0 setback, leaves them tumbling backward just when they seemed to finally have generated some forward momentum with five wins in six games. It also leaves them in bind with the feisty Toronto Blue Jays (53-55) coming to town for a three-game series starting Tuesday. Having passed the Orioles on Friday by a game, they now trail them by one in the back-and-forth battle for the second Wild Card spot with a record of 56-52. If there's any consolation, it's that they are still only two games behind the current No. 2 Wild Card team, the Detroit Tigers. But somehow, they have to find a way to start hitting, because even the sensational pitching like Price gave them an eight-inning, two-hit shutout isn't enough right now. "We pitched great," said manager Joe Maddon. "I mean what are you going to do man, we just can't hit right now. We lost some tough ones on the road, same thing. We have to figure it out." Since the start of July, the story has been the same for Rays' hitters. They've averaged only 2.9 runs per game at the Trop, the lowest total in the AL during that span. Against Baltimore this weekend, they once again put runners in scoring position but couldn't bring them home wallowing at 0-for-12. As it turns out, the two worst AL teams this season with runners in scoring position with a .234 batting average are the Rays and Orioles. That might explain the scoreless tie heading into the 10th Sunday, ending only when Baltimore's Taylor Teagarden snapped out of his own slump (2-for-24 and .083 in his previous nine games) with an RBI-double off reliever Joel Peralta. What a way to go. Peralta came on in the 10th after closer Fernando Rodney pitched another scoreless inning in the ninth in relieving Price. Rodney has not given up a run in his last 20 appearances dating back to June 16. His current 21-inning scoreless streak is the longest one going in the majors and ties the Tampa Bay mark for relievers set in 2005 by Joe Borowski. He's two innings shy of tying the overall record of 23 set by James Shields last year. But Peralta seemed a bit out of synch; he gave up a one-out walk to Mark Reynolds before regaining the edge by striking out Omar Quintanilla looking. But against the struggling Teagarden, he went to a full count before the ninth hitter in the lineup blasted a ball off the wall in left-center to effectively end the game. In his post-game press briefing, Maddon deflected some of the blame from Peralta. "The thing about that is I had him up earlier, sat him down, had to get him back," he said. "I didn't like that at all. I mean he's not used to that...I'm not making excuses for him; he won't make one for himself. But the way that all set up there was a chance to use him earlier in the game, that went away in the eighth inning. Sat him down. Ninth inning here comes Fernando. And then he comes back out in the tenth. I think if he was not as sharp as he normally is, that has something to do with it." Technically, of course, the Rays had a chance to score in the bottom of the frame. But did you really expect it the way things have been going? A quiet 1-2-3 finish followed against stellar closer Jim Johnson, who picked up his 32nd save, tying him with Rodney. With that, the Rays absorbing their fifth shutout this season this one led by Miguel Gonzalez' seven-inning, two-hitter and finished off by four Oriole relievers. It was only the sixth time in club history that they've been blanked in consecutive games, and the first since Sept. 7-8 in 2008. Worse yet, they've been held to a total of four over their last five home games, even though their pitchers have allowed only nine runs in that span. And they certainly haven't helped themselves by being limited to three runs or less in 11 of their last 14 games. "The natural reaction to when you struggle is to try harder and a lot of times when you do that with hitting it goes the opposite way," said rightfielder Matt Joyce, who collected one of the Rays' three hits and has a .270 batting average one of the best on the club. "So, you know the more relaxed you are, the more confident you are, the most successful you're going to be and hopefully this off day is going to help us." If it weren't for a sensational running, over-the-shoulder catch by Joyce in the second, the Orioles would have won the game in a breeze Sunday. Teagarden, perhaps foreshadowing his eventual heroics, hammered the first pitch Price threw him deep to right for what would have been a two-run double. But Joyce chased it down right at the wall for the final out of the inning. Price found his groove after that, at one point retiring nine straight, eventually leaving after eight with his shutout intact good for an ERA now 2.49 to go with his 14-4 record. But he's pitched well enough in his last two starts for it to be 16-4, counting the seven-inning gem he threw against the Angels in a game the Rays went on to lose 4-3 in 15 innings last week. As a group, Tampa Bay's pitchers have still been carrying the load. Since the All-Star break, they lead the majors in team ERA (2.34), strikeouts (226) and lowest opponent's batting average (.201). The Rays will need more of the same against Toronto following a day off Monday. Shields, who pitched his first complete-game shutout of the season last week against Oakland, will get the start. He'll put his 9-7. 4.24 record up against Jays' lefty J.A. Happ (0-0, 5.14). On Wednesday night, Alex Cobb (5-8. 4.60) will go against Henderson Alvarez (7-8. 4.47) and Thursday at 1:10 Matt Moore (8-7, 3.84) will start against a Toronto pitcher to be determined. Also to be determined: Will the Rays' offense show up or give another show for the dogs?
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