ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Kevin Cash has talked a lot during the Rays' streaky up-and-down season about how to beat the best teams, they have to play without making any, and certainly not many, mistakes.
Thursday's 1-0 loss to the Astros proved to be a matter of what they didn't do right rather than anything they really did wrong.
Most glaringly in the eighth inning, when they had a prime chance to at least tie, if not go ahead, with runners on the corners and no outs. But some miserable luck, after a curious call by Cash, did them in.
Otherwise, playing with a chance to get back to .500 at 40-40, they played well against the defending champs. Just not well enough.
"It stinks when you lose 1-0,'' Cash said. "We just won a ball game 1-0 two days ago. Everything has got to go right."
Ryan Yarbrough, who followed again effective game-opener Ryne Stanek, allowed a homer to No. 9 hitter Jake Marisnick in the fifth inning on a one-out changeup for the only run.
The Rays looked sharp on defense, turning two double plays and executing well when Yarbrough caught Jose Altuve breaking for second.
With Tampa native Lance McCullers spinning his devilish curveball effectively out of the zone on his way to his first win at the Trop in three tries, the Rays didn't have many scoring opportunities.
All of which made the eighth inning so pivotal as they faced reliever Chris Devenski.
Rookie Willy Adames doubled, and the way the Rays had been playing in rolling off five straight wins against the Yankees and Nationals, it seemed like a good vibe.
Kevin Kiermaier then craftily pushed a bunt — "a really, really tremendous bunt,'' Cash said — to the third-base side of the mound, not only advancing Adames but beating the throw to first.
That sure seemed like a prime opportunity for the Rays with their top hitter, Matt Duffy, up next. But before letting Duffy take a swing at tying the score, Cash made the curious decision to put on the safety squeeze, confident that Duffy, who he called "arguably our best hitter, best contact guy,'' would either get in the run or be 1-and-1 in the count.
"Took a gamble to sacrifice KK and then obviously get Willy in from third,'' Cash said.
Duffy couldn't get the changeup down fair, but that wasn't the worst thing that happened that inning.
On the 2-and-1 pitch, Kiermaier took off for second, which seemed liked a good idea … at least until Duffy laced a liner right at shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, who made the catch and the toss to first for the easy double play. Rookie Jake Bauers grounded out to strand Adames at third and end their best chance.
"I look at it that it was bad luck,'' Cash said. "Nobody did anything wrong. Matt squared up a ball. KK had the base stolen. So it just didn't work in our favor, for whatever reason.
"Obviously it's frustrating. The guys are frustrated. When you're sitting there first and third and the way we have been playing, you're looking with KK at first, there's a chance to put him in scoring position and we take the lead with three outs to get.''
Duffy, typically, was beating himself up for failing to get down the bunt.
"A safety squeeze is kind of an indefensible thing. … You execute it, and I didn't,'' he said. "You're going to line out sometimes, that's part of the game. Not executing is what I'm most frustrated with.''
Yarbrough felt much the same way, frustrated with the one glitch but otherwise pleased with how he pitched and the team played.
"Just the one pitch was it for the game,'' Yarbrough said. "That was what did it for them. Obviously being able to bounce back from that and trying to keep us in the game was what I was trying to do. Our defense was fantastic for us making all those plays. I felt like we put a good game together but didn't come out on top."
Though losing their majors-most 20th one-run game has to be getting old, there were a couple of firsts. It was the first time in their 3,318 games that they lost 1-0 on a homer by the No. 9 hitter. And it was the first time in their 21-year franchise history that they played consecutive one-run games.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.