Rays' rally falls shy in hard-luck loss

Rays' rally falls shy in hard-luck loss

ST. PETERSBURG -- The line drive was smoked off Carlos Pena's bat, screaming toward the right-field corner as the clutch hit that the Rays have recently been so desperately expecting.

Only it was intercepted, snared by lunging first baseman Kendry Morales, who then doubled up Evan Longoria to end the inning, end the threat, and effectively end the night for the Rays, who were left shaking their heads in disbelief at more misfortune and less luck.

The Angels snuck by Tuesday night, beating Tampa Bay, 4-3, in front of 16,087 fans at Tropicana Field to take the first game of a three-game series. The loss marks the third consecutive for the Rays, and the fifth in a row by two runs or less.

But it was one marred by defensive miscues and a few inauspicious outcomes, none better epitomized than Pena's seventh-inning line drive with the bases loaded in a 4-2 game.

"He smoked that ball. And their first baseman made a great play on that," Rays outfielder Ben Zobrist said. "If that ball gets by, that could score all three runners. That was a really tough break right there. And that's what defines a game sometimes."

Morales's catch saved the day for Angels pitcher Jered Weaver, who went six innings and allowed five hits, two runs, four walks and struck out six to improve to 6-2 on the season. He outpitched James Shields, who allowed 10 hits over 6 1/3 innings.

Shields had to battle after two Rays errors resulted in two unearned runs in the first inning -- a shoddy beginning that put Tampa Bay in an early hole and re-emphasized some of the fielding woes for the team as of late. Shields surrendered two more earned runs and was lifted after Bobby Abreu hit an RBI double in the seventh.

"It's one of those things where you've just got to pick the team up by keeping them in the game," Shields said. "We did a pretty decent job of coming back there late. Just one run short."

In the fifth inning, Howard Kendrick hit a triple off the top of the right-field wall that required a replay review by the umpires. After a two-minute delay, home-plate umpire Mark Wegner announced the play would stand, and Kendrick later scored on a sacrifice fly by Chone Figgins to make the score 3-0.

Shields fell to 5-5 on the season, though the Rays have averaged only 2.75 runs per nine innings over his last 10 starts.

"[Shields] did fine," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He pitched well enough for us to win tonight. We fought back, we had a chance. It was just their night."

The Rays cut the score to 4-3 on a solo home run by Zobrist in the eighth -- his 12th of the season, tying a career high -- but the Angels' bullpen held on. Tampa Bay got the leadoff runner on base in the ninth against closer Brian Fuentes, but he got a flyout by B.J. Upton and then got Carl Crawford to ground into a game-ending double play -- the first time all season Crawford has hit into a double play.

Upton was ejected by Wegner after his flyout. He was upset about two close strike calls during the at-bat. It was his first ejection of the season.

"I couldn't really tell those pitches from the side," Maddon said. "When you do come back out on the field like that, an umpire is going to throw you out."

The Rays have lost three in a row after taking the first game in New York this weekend and sweeping the Royals last week.

Afterwards, Maddon was disappointed by his team's sloppiness, but understood just how close they were to pulling out a win. Once again, though, it seemed the ball wasn't bouncing in his club's favor.

"So many things that could've gone our way tonight that did not," Maddon said. "What can I say? We fought our way to the very end. We have to get beyond these conclusions where we lose the one-run game or the two-run game. That part is frustrating."

Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.