The Rangers haven't been doing much of anything lately, but starter Matt Garza's inability to deliver the shutdown inning was glaring in Monday night's 6-2 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field. Even Garza admitted it was an issue.
"My job is to put a zero on the board there and keep us in the ballgame," Garza said.
But he did not do that, and the Rangers took their seventh straight loss. They have also lost 13 of their last 16 and no longer lead the American League Wild Card playoff race.
"We're not hitting, pitching or playing defense," designated hitter Lance Berkman said. "It's not happening in any phase of the game. We just have to show up tomorrow and try to win. That's all you can do. There is no secret formula. We've got to pitch, hit and catch the ball."
The Rangers had a players-only meeting before the game, but that wasn't enough to get them out of a September slump that is threatening to knock them out of the playoffs for the first time in four years.
"It's pretty tough right now," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "It looks like nothing is going our way. … I'm getting tired of talking about it. We just have to keep playing. That's the only way we're going to get out of it. Go out and play baseball."
The Rangers have not had a lead at any point in their last 63 innings over seven games. On Monday night they twice were able to at least come from behind and tie the score, once in the fourth inning and again in the fifth, but on both occasions Garza immediately gave up runs that let the Rays go back in front.
And that's what Washington refers to as the "shutdown" inning.
Garza ended up allowing six runs in 4 1/3 innings against his former teammates and has now lost his last three starts. He is 3-5 with a 4.94 ERA in 11 starts with the Rangers since being acquired from the Cubs on July 22. He pitched for the Rays from 2008 to 2010.
"What's galling is, I'm letting my team down," Garza said. "It doesn't matter who I'm against, it's my team that's the one I care about. I can't pick anything out, I'm just falling behind in counts. That's about it.
"You give them good counts to hit in, the breaks aren't going to go your way. You get ahead in counts and put them in uncomfortable positions, things tend to go your way. My job is to help us get to October, and I'm still going to do that, keep trying, keep working, keep pushing. There's no quit, just keep going and be ready in five days."
Rays starter Alex Cobb held the Rangers to two runs in eight innings. He allowed six hits, walked one and struck out 10, including the first four batters he faced.
"Alex was outstanding," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "You saw that first inning of work. He came out really painting. Cobber was outstanding -- not good, outstanding. You see their hitters taking strikes that you knew, they were just painted. ... There's not a whole lot they could have done with those pitches. He was on top of his game."
After Wil Myers put the Rays ahead with a leadoff home run in the second inning, the Rangers tied it in the top of the fourth on an RBI single by A.J. Pierzynski, but the Rays regained the lead in the bottom of the inning on Desmond Jennings' sacrifice fly.
The Rangers tied it again in the top of the fifth on a one-out double by Mitch Moreland and a two-out double by Ian Kinsler. But with Andrus at the plate, Kinsler tried to steal third and left too early. Cobb caught him with an inside pickoff move, and Kinsler was tagged out easily in a rundown to end the inning. By the time Andrus resumed his at-bat in the sixth, the Rangers trailed by four runs.
Garza started the fifth by striking out Yunel Escobar before David DeJesus got the Rays going with a double to right. Ben Zobrist moved DeJesus to third with a single to left, and James Loney's single put the Rays back in the lead. Longoria followed with a grounder up the middle that snuck past Andrus and Kinsler for an RBI single that sent home Zobrist.
That was it for Garza. Jason Frasor took over and gave up a two-run double to Myers off the center-field wall that gave the Rays a four-run lead.
"I made pitches when I did and paid for pitches that were up," Garza said. "That's about it."