It’s been more than three months since the Tampa Bay Rays lost two in a row at home.
The first-place Rays likely can’t afford for that to change when they face the Oakland Athletics in the deciding game of their three-game series Wednesday afternoon.
Tampa Bay (58-41) fell 8-1 to Oakland on Tuesday for its second loss in three games after winning two in a row against Toronto to open its six-game homestand.
The Rays, who hold a slim lead over Boston in the AL East, are 39-16 at Tropicana Field, where they’ve won their last three series and haven’t dropped two straight games since losing three in a row from April 14-18.
On Tuesday, Carlos Pena drove in the Rays’ lone run and Carl Crawford had two hits for Tampa Bay, which has failed to score more than four runs in 11 of its last 12 contests, totaling two or less in seven of those games.
“The solution is that we just have to hit better against them,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Just have to stay with it, hang with it and we’re going to get better at it.”
Smith tries to avoid losing his third straight decision when he faces the Rays for the second time. He allowed two runs in seven innings but lost 3-2 to Tampa Bay on May 20.
The rookie is coming off the shortest outing of his career, giving up six runs and eight hits in 3 2-3 innings of a 7-1 loss to the New York Yankees on Friday.
“There was a little bit of rust, but I’m not going to make excuses,” Smith said of his first start since the All-Star break. “I just didn’t have it.”
Tampa Bay counters with James Shields (8-6, 3.69), who will try for a second straight win. He allowed a run and four hits in seven innings of a 2-1 victory over Toronto on Friday.
The right-hander, who is 4-1 over his last six starts, is 2-1 with a 4.55 ERA against Oakland. Shields allowed five runs in 7 2-3 innings of a 7-6, 13-inning road win over the A’s on May 19.
Jack Hannahan went 2-for-4 with a three-run homer and four RBIs, while Kurt Suzuki added three hits and an RBI on Tuesday for Oakland (52-48), which snapped a season-high six-game losing streak. The A’s totaled nine runs during that skid.
“We’re trying to keep everybody positive,” Oakland manager Bob Geren said. “We had a little meeting about that and how to lead by example. We talked about it for about a half hour. The mood, I think, was positive.”
Suzuki is batting .300 (6-for-20) with three doubles against the Rays this season.