MIAMI – Joe Maddon dug deep into his bench Saturday. He called on five pinch-hitters during an eighth-inning rally, and used a different pitcher against five consecutive hitters.
The Rays were down 5-0 before scoring three times in a bizarre eight inning that included four walks and only one hit, a two-run single by pinch-hitter Johnny Damon.
"I love the fight," Maddon said. "I really felt we had a chance to come back and win that game. The guys coming off the bench had good at-bats. The guys out of bullpen, some guys we haven't counted on ... there were a lot of positives. It's just that offensively, we'd like to be able to become more consistent scoring runs."
The Rays, who began the day with a half-game lead over Boston in the AL East, have lost three in a row for the first time since starting the season 0-6. They've scored just 27 runs past nine games.
"Right now we're all probably pressing a little too much," Damon said. "Some guys are struggling."
The slump continued against Javier Vazquez, who made it through the first inning without allowing a run for the first time in nine starts this season. He went on to pitch seven shutout innings.
Vazquez (3-4) had made only one quality start previously this season, but he limited the Rays to three hits and two walks. He had a season-high seven strikeouts and lowered his ERA from 7.55 to 6.41 in his longest outing since July 26.
The performance provided a welcome boost to the Marlins' rotation, which lost ace Josh Johnson when he went on the disabled list Saturday because of shoulder inflammation.
"That was a great outing by Javy," manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "He pitched a good game against a good team. It has to be a huge step for Javy, and it's going to be huge for the Marlins. Whenever we get J.J. back, if Javy keeps pitching like that, we're going to have one of the best rotations in the majors."
"I feel fine with everything I'm throwing," Price said. "I've just got to make better pitches."
He also gave up a two-run, first-inning double to Logan Morrison, which helped the Marlins improve to 129-107 (.545) in interleague play, best in the NL. Florida will try for a sweep of the Citrus Series when right-hander Jay Buente makes his first major-league start Sunday filling in for Johnson.
The Marlins had a 5-0 lead when Vazquez departed for a pinch-hitter, but they needed five relievers to get the last six outs and complete a five-hitter. The eighth-inning rally ended when Edward Mujica struck out John Jaso.
Tampa Bay finished 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
"We definitely need to get more hits, and get some hits from the big guys," Damon said. "When we do that, it seems like things go a little more crisper. We just haven't done it yet."
After a 1-2-3 first, Vazquez loaded the bases in the second but struck out Price on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning. He retired 10 in a row before giving up a double to Casey Kotchman to start the seventh, then got the next three batters to conclude his afternoon.
The effort was his best since signing a $7 million, one-year deal with Florida after he struggled with the New York Yankees in 2010.
"It's tough to go out there getting beat the way I was getting beat," Vazquez said. "It was nice I could go out there and do a good job."
NOTES: Following the game, the Marlins optioned INF Ozzie Martinez to Triple-A New Orleans. RHP Clay Hensley (ribs) will be reinstated from the DL before Sunday's game. ... Rays CF B.J. Upton (left buttock) walked as a pinch-hitter in the eighth and is expected back in the starting lineup Sunday. ... Mike Joyce, who came into the game leading the majors in batting, went 1 for 3 to remain at .358.