The heart of the Blue Jays' batting order couldn't come up with the necessary knock against Rays closer Fernando Rodney while R.A. Dickey's difficulties with the long ball continued in another heartbreaking, 4-3 loss.
"It was a tough one. We had opportunities to at least tie the game, but it is what it is," shortstop Jose Reyes said after his club's fourth consecutive defeat. "It's tough, it's disappointing, because we haven't been able to get the big hit."
Toronto appeared primed to steal a game away from the Rays when its first two batters reached base in the bottom of the ninth. Reyes quickly followed with a two-run double to the gap in right-center and all of a sudden a seemingly dormant team had renewed life as it climbed to within one run.
The outlook quickly changed when neither Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion nor Melky Cabrera were able to come through with the game on the line. Bautista struck out on five pitches while both Encarnacion and Cabrera hit weak grounders to the left side of the infield.
That enabled Rodney to escape with another save, despite having to throw 35 pitches just one day after he was forced to throw 21. In both games, Toronto had the tying run on third and the winning run on base, but came up just short when it mattered the most.
"We need to turn it around, because it's the end of July," Reyes said. "That's going to be tough for us to run with something. We need to turn it around starting tomorrow, because it's getting late.
"We need to start winning some games, winning some series, because if we don't do that, we're going to go home early and we don't want to do that."
With the exception of Reyes' double in the ninth and a Josh Thole double in the second, the Blue Jays failed to take advantage of their chances. It has been an ongoing concern of late and one that became even more noticeable against the Rays.
Toronto hit just .148 (4-for-27) with runners in scoring position during the series, stranded a total of 25 baserunners, and now finds itself ranked 10th in the American League with a .256 average (183-for-715) with runners in scoring position.
The failures with runners on base has been one of the primary reasons that despite one of the best bullpens in baseball, the Blue Jays have a 9-18 record in one-run games.
"They're competing, but right now, we're not playing good enough baseball to win a lot of games," manager John Gibbons said. "That's basically what it comes down to. They outplayed us in all three games. They're on a nice little roll, good ballclub, great pitching. That's just the way it is."
The late-inning rally almost overshadowed another outing in which Dickey had trouble keeping the ball in the park. He allowed three homers, which marked the seventh time in 21 outings this season he has surrendered at least two.
Dickey is now tied with Angels right-hander Joe Blanton for most home runs allowed (23) in the Major Leagues. It's just one off his entire total from last season with more than two months still to play.
To make matters even more frustrating for Dickey is that after a slow start to the season, he has been pitching better of late, but the positive results are often erased with just one swing of the bat. That was the case Sunday as Dickey was almost untouchable except for three glaring mistakes.
"It seems to be my bane this year," said Dickey, who allowed homers to Evan Longoria, Luke Scott and Kelly Johnson. "It's not all the time that you make a mistake with one and it gets hit out of the park. It's just this year that's been the case. You make a mistake and they pop one out.
"I can take the solo home runs, it's just the multi-run home run that's been really haunting this year. But got to try and take some positives out of today's outing. Felt real good, had a good knuckleball, a lot of swings and misses. Just going to try and build off of the momentum the last month or so."
Toronto was swept for the second time in July and has now lost 16 of its last 23 games after going on an 11-game winning streak during the middle of June.
One day after left-hander Mark Buehrle suggested "maybe we were overrated" following an eventful offseason, Dickey couldn't help agree with his veteran teammate.
"It's hard to see it any other way, because of our record," Dickey said. "I think the capability that this team has is still very very good. I hope we carry an expectation of that going forward now. We obviously haven't put all the pieces together. Hopefully, we're going to be able to do that.
"But this team, that's not built for just a singular year. This is something that we're going to have to try and figure out, because we have some guys under contract for the next two or three years. And we have some good players. I don't think we need to be hanging our heads and pointing fingers. I just think it's time for us to try collectively to make a push."