ST. PETERSBURG — Facing an elite pitcher on getaway day, Tampa Bay Rays batters went AWOL in clutch situations.
The result was a 3-0 loss against the Texas Rangers in Sunday’s finale of a season-opening seven-game homestand, spoiling a stellar outing by Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb.
When the Rays boarded a flight for Kansas City on Sunday evening to begin a 10-day road swing, they were frustrated by their failures to generate any runs against Yu Darvish — particularly during three consecutive innings with at least one runner in scoring position.
“(Darvish) was really good,’’ said Rays right fielder Wil Myers, who left four runners on base in his final three at-bats. “He mixed up all his pitches, kept the ball down and elevated when he had to. I didn’t get the job done.’’
Coming off a disappointing effort against the Blue Jays on Tuesday, Cobb allowed only three hits in seven innings before yielding to Joel Peralta.
After Shin-Soo Choo reached on a high two-out bouncer off Peralta’s glove, slap hitter Elvis Andrus lined an elevated 3-2 fastball over the left-field wall for a 2-0 lead.
“I was trying to stay short, especially in that at-bat,’’ said Andrus, who has only 19 homers in 2,928 career at-bats. “I saw the fastball in and up and put a good swing on it.’’
The Rangers added an unearned run in the ninth, triggered by Tampa Bay’s first error of the season, a high throw by third baseman Evan Longoria.
Darvish had been sidelined for three weeks with a stiff neck, but last year’s major-league strikeout leader appeared in total command early. He registered all six of his strikeouts in the first three innings, while throwing only eight balls in 39 pitches.
But Tampa Bay touched Darvish for one hit in each of his seven innings, repeatedly threatening to break a scoreless tie in front of an announced crowd of 22,569 at Tropicana Field.
In the fifth, a walk to Ryan Hanigan and a one-out double by David DeJesus prompted the Rangers to bring the infield in against Myers, who popped to first before Ben Zobrist flied out.
Longoria led off the sixth with a double and advanced to third on a one-out fly by Desmond Jennings, but Matt Joyce flied out to left.
Hanigan doubled leading off the seventh and Myers had another opportunity to cash in two outs later with Hanigan on third, but he tapped weakly to first baseman Prince Fielder as Darvish narrowly beat Myers to the bag.
The Rays came into the game averaging seven runs in their four wins, but finished 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position against Darvish and three relievers.
“I thought we played well, we just could not hit with runners in scoring position,’’ Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “That is a tribute to their pitching.’’
Peralta, who limited batters to a .145 average at Tropicana Field last season, offered no excuses for that fateful eighth inning.
“It was a little bit up,’’ he said of the payoff pitch to Andrus. “It was supposed to be down. I made a mistake and paid for it. ... That’s how this game is. Cobb was great, as he normally is.’’
Cobb threw 97 pitches in matching Darvish with six strikeouts through seven innings. Texas managed only three singles and one walk against him as Cobb rebounded from a five-inning stint in his opening start, when he gave up four runs and snapped an eight-game home winning streak.
“Getting hit around a little bit and being inconsistent really made me focus this week and figure out what was going on,’’ Cobb said. “If you have a bad outing, you’re that much more determined to get your stuff together.’’