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Rodney falters, but gives Rays chance to win

Rodney falters, but gives Rays chance to win

ST. PETERSBURG -- Fernando Rodney didn't get to break out the familiar bow-and-arrow routine Wednesday night, instead making his 2013 debut with a rather unfamiliar sight: a blown save.

The Rays' closer hadn't allowed a run since last August. Nineteen shutout innings over 19 appearances. Throw in his scoreless work in the World Baseball Classic and Spring Training, and Rodney had gone 32 straight appearances since allowing a runner to cross home plate.

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He allowed all of five earned runs last season, only two of them at Tropicana Field. He blew only two saves, none of them at home. He entered Wednesday night having allowed one earned run since last June.

So, of course, in his first outing of 2013, he gave up a run before he could record an out.

It worked out fine in the end, however. Rodney held his ground after allowing the tying run to set up Matt Joyce's walk-off homer in the Rays' 8-7 victory at Tropicana Field. But after a nearly flawless 2012 campaign, Rodney's first outing of 2013 was unusually imperfect.

"It was crazy. Rodney coming out the first time, didn't think that would've happened," Joyce said. "But I guess they say everything happens for a reason, and to get the first win out of the way, to have it in dramatic fashion, kind of seems to be the Rays' way of doing things."

Coming off a historic year in which he posted a record-low 0.60 ERA and saved a team-record 48 games in 50 chances, Rodney made his first appearance of the year in the top of the ninth, drawing a loud ovation from the home crowd of 15,599.

"It's a good crowd. They said, 'Welcome back, Rodney,'" Rodney said. "So happy with that."

He wasn't as happy with what happened next: a leadoff walk to Orioles designated hitter Nolan Reimold. And it came back to haunt him when Brian Roberts, Baltimore's ninth hitter, lined a double to left field to score Reimold and tie the game at 7, ruining Rodney's first save attempt of 2013.

"It happened so quickly. He made a good [2-2] pitch [to the outside corner] there that was called a ball that could've been strike three on Reimold," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Brian Roberts hitting ninth -- come on, that's bully for them -- and hits a ball in a perfect spot. That's just sometimes the way the thing crumbles."

After Nate McLouth's sacrifice bunt, Rodney stood on the mound with the go-ahead runner at third and one out. Just like that, he got Manny Machado and Nick Markakis to ground out to shortstop Yunel Escobar and escaped the inning. The shutout streak was over, but the Rays were still alive.

"He got through that jam and permitted us to just have a walk-off home run. A lot of guys, that stuff happens and all of a sudden it becomes two or three runs. It didn't," Maddon said. "You can't overlook that, and that's what I was thinking about there. Keep it right there, keep it tied, give us a chance to score one in the ninth and win it, and he did. That's the part that really speaks loudly for me with him tonight."

That was what mattered to Rodney, too. He'll get to fire his first imaginary arrow of the year another day, but he was glad to have dodged a bullet Wednesday night.

"It was fun. More important, we get the win," Rodney said. "I [kept] my head up and continued making good pitches to get out of the inning."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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