ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Petty's “I Won't Back Down” rang over the public address system as the Boston Red Sox walked off the field Tuesday night, shaking hands and slapping backs and waving to their fans standing behind the dugout.
The song sums up the Tampa Bay Rays' mindset during this run to the playoffs, but perhaps the Beatles should have been singing “Help,” because that's what the Rays need right now.
Starter David Price turned in one of his best efforts of the season and it still didn't matter as the freefalling continued for the Rays in a 2-0 loss in front of 18,605 at Tropicana Field.
The Rays are a major league-worst 4-12 since Aug. 24, when they led the Red Sox by percentage points in the American League East.
Price had little to do with that Tuesday night.
“David was outstanding,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He could not have done anything more.”
Well, he could have tried to bat.
The Rays managed four hits, three in five innings against Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz, who returned from the disabled list and pitched for the first time since June 8 because of a neck strain.
The good news for the Rays, if there is any good news for the Rays, is that the Cleveland Indians and the Baltimore Orioles both lost and failed to gain ground. They remain 1 1/2 games back of the Rays for the American League's second wild card spot.
However, the New York Yankees, who beat Baltimore, moved to within 2 games of the Rays. Kansas City, which beat Cleveland, moved to within 3 games of Tampa Bay.
The Rays were hoping a return from the West Coast and a meeting with the first-place Red Sox would perk things up. But aside from Price, the Rays continued to falter.
Price threw a career-high 127 pitches - the most by a Tampa Bay pitcher since Victor Zambrano threw 128 on July 28 against the Yankees in New York. He allowed just three hits and struck out nine.
“(I wanted to win) just as bad as everybody else,” Price said. “This is a huge (game) against a team that was 7 1/2 games in front of us (now 8 1/2). Right now it's all about winning. I want our team to win.”
Price retired the first 12 batters he faced, though the Red Sox were making him work - 59 pitches through four innings.
The game changed in the fifth when Mike Napoli started the inning by driving a ball to center field. Desmond Jennings ran back to the wall, jumped to make the catch but the ball struck wall just inches above his glove.
“It's a play that should have been made that didn't get made,” Jennings said.
“That's a tough play for Desmond, but that's a play he could make and has made in the past,” he said.
Jennings said he was trying to turn while not taking his eye off the ball and just didn't get back to the wall in time.
“I reached up and I didn't reach up high enough,” he said.
Napoli cruised into second base with a double. He scored when Jonny Gomes lined a single to center field. Gomes then took second when Jennings, trying to throw out Napoli, missed the cutoff man with a poor throw that bounced nearly to the backstop behind home plate.
“It was a bad throw,” Jennings said. “I was going home with it.”
A sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly scored Gomes, and that was the ballgame.
“That second run was huge,” Maddon said.
Gomes just has six hits against the Rays this season but five have driven in runs.
Maddon said he will have a talk with Jennings “in a positive way.”
Jennings is struggling at the plate - 11-for-63 since returning from the disabled list. He's also made three errors, which is uncharacteristic.
“I don't know what it is,” Jennings said. “It's a bad time to be playing bad, I guess.”
He's not alone among Rays when it comes to that.
Tampa Bay had seven baserunners Tuesday. Two were caught stealing as Maddon tried desperately to make something happen.
That's also why Maddon allowed Price to throw 127 pitches.
“I was looking for that to be that moment, to rally around what he had done,” Maddon said. “You're looking for this different thing to generate a rallying cry. David really battled to the very end.
“You're looking for the group to garner momentum from that. It didn't happen.”
Price lost his third consecutive start, the longest losing streak of his career since he lost three straight between July 20 and Aug. 2, 2011. It was also the third time he lost this year while pitching at least eight innings.
The Rays are 6-11 against Boston this season. While Rays pitching has been able to slow down the Red Sox bats (a .207 batting average against the Rays), the Red Sox pitching is doing the same to the Rays, holding them to two or fewer runs in 10 of the 17 games.
“They've pitched well against us all year,” Maddon said. “Boston has beaten us because they've actually outpitched us in most of those games. We're just going to have to figure out how to break through offensively speaking.”
The Rays had limited opportunities Tuesday, though they did have some chances.
James Loney singled with one out in the second inning, and Jennings reached on an infield single one out later. But Buchholz struck out Jose Molina to end the inning.
David DeJesus singled with one out in the third inning, but was caught stealing with Ben Zobrist at the plate on a botched hit-and-run.
Matt Joyce walked with one out in the fourth inning but was caught stealing when Loney looked at strike three.
Yunel Escobar doubled with two out in the eighth inning against Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa, and Boston manager John Farrell quickly called for closer Koji Uehara.
Uehara entered the game having retired 27 straight batters. He made it 28 when he got Myers to foul out to first base.
Uehara then extended that streak to 31 with a perfect ninth inning.
“We've been a group recently where we've had people on but we just can't score,” Maddon said. “There's not a whole lot you can do right now expect keep playing, keep grinding it out.”