"The biggest difference is that we're not hitting. We're just not scoring enough runs," Maddon said. "If you hold the other team to two points, you should have a pretty good chance of winning."
James Shields was as good as he's been all season, retiring 16 consecutive batters from the third through the eighth inning, but the Rays (32-14) couldn't get anything going at the plate and fell to the Red Sox (26-21) in front of 24,310 in Tropicana Field.
Shields gave up only four hits and walked just two batters while striking out five and lowering his ERA to 2.99, but he fell to 5-2 on the year.
"I'm not in any way discouraged," Maddon said. "I just really hate wasting that good of a pitching performance."
Carl Crawford wasn't ready to place all the blame for the Rays' troubles at the plate on a wide strike zone, but the left fielder didn't back away from drawing a correlation between the questionable zone and the fact that the team had just one hit on the night.
"We had one hit. It's hard to hit the ball when you've got a guy that's good like [Boston left-hander Jon] Lester, and he's getting pitches four to five inches off the plate," said Crawford, who was ejected along with Maddon in the fifth inning for arguing a strike call. "It's pretty tough to hit. We ain't making excuses, but it is what it is."
Although Boston didn't get off to quite as strong of a start as it did Monday night, when it scored six runs in the first four innings, the Red Sox still managed to put the Rays in a hole early by scoring two runs in the third inning off Shields. David Ortiz, who homered against Tampa Bay in the first game of the series, smacked a double to left field that scored J.D. Drew from second and Kevin Youkilis from first.
That was all Shields allowed, however, and the 16 batters he retired after that tied him for the third-longest streak in team history. The right-hander allowed two runs on four hits in eight innings of work. The lack of run support might appear frustrating, but Shields said he was ready to let the loss go and look forward.
"I'm moving on right now. I pitched well tonight," Shields said. "I think that was one of the better games of the year for me, and I'm going to try to build on it for the next start. We didn't get the win today, and we're going to move on today. That's what our team does best."
The Rays threatened to score in the first inning, as Lester walked Jason Bartlett and Crawford, and then Bartlett moved to third on a flyout by Evan Longoria. But Tampa Bay couldn't capitalize with a runner in scoring position, and it didn't pick up its lone hit of the game until the fourth inning, when designated hitter Willy Aybar knocked a line-drive single to center field.
Lester gave up a season-high five walks, including three to Bartlett, but Aybar's single was the only hit he gave up while striking out nine batters in six innings of work. The Red Sox's bullpen shut down the Rays' hitters the rest of the way for their fourth consecutive win.
"You've got to make adjustments," Maddon said. "They were taking advantage of it. Lester kept throwing to those spots, and [Jason] Varitek kept catching the ball well in those spots, so they kept getting those pitches, and that's the way it works sometimes."
Adam Berry is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.