"Frustrating is a great word for today," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The whole day reeked of frustration."
Tampa Bay (75-57) began the season on a 21-19 roll against left-handed starters, but Vargas' win put the Rays at 2-9 since then.
Vargas is no stranger to success at Tropicana Field. In his previous start in the building on July 21, 2012, he held the Rays to one run in six innings to pick up the win for the Mariners.
Some of Maddon's frustration stemmed from the first inning, when the Rays loaded the bases with one out and came away empty-handed.
After the first inning, "[Vargas] settled in and pitched great," Maddon said. "He had us chasing all day. ... Early on we were kind of on him. And then all of a sudden we started chasing the changeup away. We did not attempt to use the opposite side of the field, we just kept trying to pull the ball or do too much with it, and that's exactly what he wants. And so we kind of played into his hand a bit."
Vargas allowed that the first-inning escape was critical to his second consecutive start against the Rays without allowing an earned run.
"I felt good," Vargas said. "I felt like I was able to execute. After getting out of that first inning, it kind of starts to push momentum your way. You get out of something like that early, and it gets the guys fired up."
Jake Odorizzi was recalled from Triple-A Durham to start Thursday's game and gave a solid effort. The 23-year-old right-hander took the Rays through five innings, allowing just one run on four hits, but took his first loss of the season.
"I'm pitching with more confidence," said Odorizzi, whose start marked his fourth stint in the Major Leagues this season. "I have a better feel for my stuff. It's not like the first time up with a new team. The nerves are taken care of now. Just pitch with more confidence, I'm able to attack the zone and work on stuff. It's just a lot easier after the first time up and you get that out of your way. Now it's strictly business."
Alex Torres took over for Odorizzi to start the sixth with the Rays trailing, 1-0. In two innings, he gave up an RBI single to Kole Calhoun to push the Angels' lead to 2-0.
Jamey Wright and Wesley Wright held the Angels scoreless in the eighth and ninth innings, but Dane De La Rosa and Ernesto Frieri followed Vargas with two scoreless frames to finish off the Angels' win.
"Give Jake Odorizzi credit today, he pitched really, really well -- Torres, and Jamey Wright in the bullpen and Wesley," Maddon said. "So to keep them to two runs today is really important on our part. We normally win a game like that, especially at home. So I was really pleased with the pitching and the overall defense."
The Rays did make things interesting in the ninth, when they had runners at second and third with one out, but Frieri managed to retire Kelly Johnson on a foul pop then got pinch-hitter David DeJesus on a deep fly to right to end the game.
Tampa Bay had just three hits while stranding eight and going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position en route to suffering their seventh shutout of the season. Personifying the Rays' frustrations at the plate were Evan Longoria and Wil Myers, who went a combined 0-for-19 in the series.
"They did have a tough series, Longo and Wil did, but I did like the walks," said Maddon, noting Myers' three on Thursday. "When you're walking, you're hitting. The walks are the first sign before somebody starts getting back to normal."
Myers conceded that he has been frustrated by not contributing offensively, but added that he's feeling better at the plate.
"I felt like today was my best day in a week," Myers said. "I felt my hands working a lot better today, even though I did have the strikeout. I took some good swings at balls."
The Rays remained a half-game ahead of the Athletics for the top spot in the American League Wild Card standings as they head to Oakland for a three-game weekend series, followed by stops in Anaheim and Seattle.
"The one positive is we still have a lead in the Wild Card, and we're still within striking distance of Boston [in the AL East] with a month of baseball to play," Longoria said. "What more could you ask for? We haven't been playing anywhere near what we're capable of. We're going into this road trip hoping to figure it out sooner rather than later and get into a nice rhythm. The teams that end up going the furthest are the ones that get hot closest to the end. We'll continue to stay positive."