Despite three straight wins over Halladay, Tuesday night the Rays' antidote ran out, as the club found itself on the wrong end of a 6-2 series-opening loss to the Blue Jays.
"I honestly don't know how we beat him three times," Eric Hinske said. "He's probably the best pitcher in baseball. So you just got to go up there and battle."
Battle was also the operative word for Halladay, who avoided what would have been a career-first four losses to any one team in a single season.
"You can't change your game plan too much," Halladay said. "But I think there's a point with teams like this where they're never out of it. You have to continue to battle and work. It's a tough team to pitch against."
The chances, though few, were there. The Rays squandered a chance with runners on first and second with one out in the second inning and were unable to take full advantage of Halladay's only real trouble in the sixth inning.
With Halladay's pitch count hovering around the 100 mark, Akinori Iwamura opened the inning with a single and Carlos Pena laced a one-out liner, with both runners advancing on a wild pitch. After Cliff Floyd struck out, Willy Aybar was hit by a pitch to load the bases and Hinske delivered with his second hit of the night. Hinske's two-out, two-run single just made it over the head of Toronto shortstop John McDonald to put the Rays on the board.
But a chance to even the score was quickly snuffed out when Halladay sent pinch-hitter Shawn Riggans down swinging for his seventh strikeout of the night. Backstop Dioner Navarro was replaced by Riggans after battling cramps in both legs.
Conversely, the Jays made the most of their offensive opportunities against starter James Shields, as Toronto converted on several two-out scenarios. Shields got behind in the count early and often, allowing three of his four runs in the first three innings.
"Sometimes you've got to give the other team credit," Hinske said. "They hit the ball well."
They didn't pitch too badly either. Halladay successfully maneuvered through the lineup -- scattering six hits and two runs -- to outduel Shields, who entered the game with an AL-best 2.21 home ERA.
"I thought I pitched pretty well," Shields said. "But when you face Halladay, you got to bring your A-game. ... It was my B-game I guess."
Hardly second rate, Shields settled down to allow three hits and one run in his final 3 2/3 innings on the hill. But the early damage was all the ammo Halladay needed as the right-hander won his third straight start and is now 4-1 with a 1.96 ERA in his last five appearances.
"Halladay's a great pitcher," Shields said. "You can't make too many errors when you are facing a guy like that. He's one of the premiere pitchers in the league."
Perhaps the one thing the Rays can take away from the rare home loss was the quality plate appearances. After countless deep counts Halladay was forced to an early exit -- tossing 111 pitches over six innings.
"I thought we had good at-bats," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I'd like to give our guys some credit.
"Of course the odds are against you, [in beating Halladay a fourth time] but we are trying to do some very special things here this year. But it was 3-2. It was 3-2 when he left. And they did the nice picket thing there at the end [with their bullpen]."
Following Halladay's wizardry, Tuesday night didn't get any easier for the Rays batters. Toronto's stingy bullpen of Jesse Carlson, Brandon League, Scott Downs and B.J. Ryan didn't just shut the door; they slammed it -- allowing just one hit in the final three scoreless innings.
"They just beat us tonight," Maddon said. "They beat us. They were better than us. But we got two games left in this series and we will see what happens."
Despite the loss, the skipper was hoping the Rays would turn to the music for Wednesday's matchup.
"Still a chance to Meat Loaf them," Maddon said, referring to the musician's song titled "Two out of Three Ain't Bad."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less