ST. PETERSBURG -- Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston was searching for Brett Cecil after Monday's defeat against the Rays. Gaston wanted to compliment the pitcher on a job well done in a game that slipped away on one costly defensive play.
What Gaston did not want was for Cecil to feel at fault.
"I hope he's feeling good," Gaston said in the wake of a 6-2 loss to the Rays. "I don't know. I've been looking for him to tell him he pitched a good game. I just can't catch up with him. He did. He pitched a great game.
"We just didn't play well behind him."
Specifically, one unfortunate miscue by Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill opened the door for a three-run outburst by Tampa Bay in the third inning. In the end, it proved to be the decisive turn in a game that kept the Rays knotted with the Yankees atop the American League East standings.
Cecil logged seven admirable innings for Toronto (68-63) and might have picked up a win on another evening with a similar performance. Only two of the five runs he surrendered were earned -- both coming in the first inning. No matter what the box score read, Cecil was not about to place the blame on Hill.
"I'm not going to fault my guys for playing hard," Cecil said. "I've got to take it upon myself. I feel like it's 100 percent my fault, because I'm the one with the ball. I'm the one that starts it all."
The third inning began well enough for the Blue Jays. Cecil induced a flyout off the bat of B.J. Upton and Toronto third baseman John McDonald made a spectacular diving catch to his left on a soft line drive from Jason Bartlett. With the Rays holding a 2-1 lead, Carl Crawford pulled a pitch through the infield.
The baseball skipped by the mound and toward Hill, who charged in on the roller while Crawford sprinted up the first-base line. Hill appeared to have time to retire the speedy outfielder for the frame's final out, but the ball skipped off the end of his glove and allowed Crawford to reach.
Asked what happened on the play, Gaston shrugged.
"I don't know," he said. "You have to ask him that."
Hill declined to speak with reporters.
"I didn't really see it," Blue Jays first baseman Adam Lind said. "I know [Crawford] is fast, so I've got to get to the base really quick. I'm sure Hilly was thinking the same thing, 'I've got to get rid of it.'"
Undoubtedly, Crawford's speed played an integral role during the play.
"It makes you hurry a play," Gaston said. "You can't beat speed."
It is one of the weapons the Rays have used to craft their 81-50 record.
"It's hustling," Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena said. "The other team knows we're going to run the bases hard and it creates a lot of havoc -- lots of pressure. Next thing you know, it gives us another opportunity for one more at-bat.
"We know how important it is to run the bases hard."
Tampa Bay made Toronto pay.
Evan Longoria followed with a single off Cecil (11-7). That set the stage for Pena, who sliced a 1-2 fastball high above left field, where it tailed over the wall for a three-run home run that put the Blue Jays behind, 5-1. It was a pitch that Cecil regretted throwing.
"That was just a bad decision," Cecil said. "I actually told [catcher John] Buck, I said, 'I thought I was going to get called for a balk.' My back leg twitched, because I was going to step off. It wasn't even that bad of a pitch."
It did sufficient damage, though.
The Blue Jays were only able to score a pair of runs against Rays right-hander Wade Davis (11-9), who scattered six hits over 7 2/3 innings. McDonald tripled and scored in the third inning and Hill belted a solo home run (his 20th long ball of the season) in the fifth, but that was the extent of Toronto's showing at the plate.
Trailing, 5-2, in the eighth inning, Toronto was on the cusp of a rally when Travis Snider and Mike McCoy each singled off Davis. With two outs and the pair of runners aboard, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon turned to reliever Chad Qualls to face Toronto's Jose Bautista, who leads the Majors with 42 home runs.
Bautista struck out to end the inning and a pair of errors from McDonald in the home half of the eighth helped the Rays add an important insurance run. The end result was a hard-luck loss for Cecil, who struck out four and walked one.
"We did not play good defense tonight," Gaston said. "Cecil pitched a good ballgame, really. He really did. We just didn't give any support as far as defense. Just play good defense and that game might be a different ballgame.
Not that Cecil would ever blame Hill.
"It's an errror in the book, but it's not an error in my book," Cecil said. "I mean, you can't fault a guy for trying to make a great play. Crawford is a fast dude, so he's got to get to that ball quick and get rid of it quick. Things happen."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.