TORONTO -- "Shut them out or be shut out." That seems to be the Rays' mantra for August.
Unfortunately for them, the latter held true on Thursday night, as their streaky offense fared no better north of the border in a 2-0 loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
By losing, the Rays (71-60) fell to 4 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East behind the idle Yankees. In addition, the Athletics and Orioles won, pushing the Rays to 1 1/2 games behind the Orioles for the second Wild Card spot.
Thursday night marked the sixth time the Rays have been blanked in August against three shutouts by their own pitchers this month.
"We've played that story way too often, and we have to get by it somehow," manager Joe Maddon said.
Starter Matt Moore got into early trouble when he walked Edwin Encarnacion with two outs in the first inning after the count was 2-2. Adam Lind followed with a single before Yunel Escobar stepped to the plate.
Escobar went 4-for-5 with a home run and three doubles against the Yankees on Wednesday, so Moore walking him to load the bases could be forgiven. But Kelly Johnson followed by ripping a two-run double to right.
"I started out bad against Edwin. I walked him," Moore said. "Adam Lind got a 2-0 base hit, [I was] behind in the count there, [then the] four-pitch walk to Escobar. Even then ... I'm one pitch from getting out of it, so I feel good about it. It just wasn't there, then obviously, [you saw] what happened next."
The Rays tried to answer in the second. Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce opened with singles and were bunted into scoring position by Jeff Keppinger, who acted on his own, without a signal.
"In a moment like that, with Kep hitting, I would prefer that he swing," Maddon said. "Kep is all about team. He is the old, proverbial salty vet, and he's done a great job for us. He chose to do that. I'm not going to sit here and criticize him for it, that's what he did. I mean, for me, I'd prefer that he swing right there, but I'm not being critical of him."
Blue Jays starter Carlos Villanueva buckled down, retiring Luke Scott on a popout to the catcher before striking out Jose Lobaton looking to end the inning.
Moore got in trouble again with two outs in the third, when Escobar and Johnson cobbled together singles to put runners on the corners. Moore escaped this time, retiring Moises Sierra on a fielder's choice.
"Moore was pitching a heck of a game himself," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "That's some kind of power stuff. We got him early, and that was really the extent of it."
Moore allowed just two runs on six hits while striking out seven and walking three in six innings, but he took his eighth loss of the season.
"Matt wasn't really sharp, but he got through it well, only gave up two runs," Maddon said. "You'd like to believe your starter will win that game."
Meanwhile, Villanueva held the Rays scoreless for six innings on five hits, striking out six en route to his seventh win of the season.
"He's smart and he mixes his pitches well," Sam Fuld said. "Kind of a typical crafty, smart pitcher who hits his spots, and today he threw four pitches for strikes."
Added B.J. Upton: "We just didn't hit him tonight. I mean, he made some pitches when he had to, but we just didn't really swing the bats the way we know we're capable of. I mean overall, we just can't put a finger on it. It just didn't happen."
The feast-or-famine nature of the Rays' current stretch seems to defy the odds. On Wednesday night they hit four homers against the Rangers, only to see yet another goose egg on Thursday night.
Not only were the Rays blanked for the sixth time in 25 games, Thursday marked the ninth time they have been shut out this season, and they lost for the Major League-leading 10th time this season in games in which they allowed two runs or fewer.
"You'd like to be putting up more consistent efforts offensively," Fuld said. "When we do have outbursts, you feel like you're going to carry the momentum. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to. It's been up and down, up and down."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.