Elliot Johnson hit an RBI single with one out in the 12th inning, giving the Tampa Bay Rays a 3-2, comeback victory over the Seattle Mariners on Monday night.
Playing before a crowd of just 9,458 — smallest at Tropicana Field since September 2007 — the Rays twice rallied from one-run deficits before winning it against Brandon League (0-2), who failed to hold a 2-1 lead the Mariners took on Jesus Montero's homer in the 11th.
J.P. Howell (1-0) pitched one scoreless inning for the win. Ben Zobrist drew a one-out walk in 12th, moved to second on Carlos Pena's single and scored when Johnson lined a 1-0 pitch to left field.
B.J. Upton's RBI single in the 11th wiped out the short-lived lead the Mariners took on Montero's homer off Wade Davis, the fourth of five Tampa Bay pitchers.
Miguel Olivo homered off Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson for Seattle's first run. Mariners starter Felix Hernandez struck out nine and walked four in eight innings while limiting Tampa Bay to Sean Rodriguez's second-inning RBI and five hits overall.
Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria left the game with what the Rays described as left knee soreness after sliding into second base on an attempted steal that end the third inning. The three-time All-Star remained on the ground before climbing to his feet and walking to the dugout without assistance.
The Mariners lost Olivo with a right groin strain in the ninth, when the catcher picked up Upton's dribbler in front on the plate and threw awkwardly to first base before falling to the ground.
Hellickson, bidding to join James Shields and David Price in matching Tampa Bay's record for victories in April, scattered six hits over seven innings, walked none and struck out seven. Shields and Price both won four times during the opening month, tying the franchise mark set by Andy Sonnanstine (2008) and Matt Garza (2010).
Olivo hit his third homer of the year to give Seattle a 1-0 lead in the second. The Rays countered with Rodriguez's RBI single off Hernandez in the bottom half.
The Mariners caught a break in the fifth when Hernandez walked Zobrist and Pena hit a drive to deep center that bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double. Zobrist would have easily scored from first base on the hit, however he was ordered back to third. The score remained 1-all after Johnson, Longoria's replacement, struck out to end the threat.
Hernandez pitched through another jam after walking Pena and Johnson with one out in the eighth, escaping when he fanned Luke Scott for the third time and got Matt Joyce to ground to second base.
The Mariners threatened in the ninth against Rays closer Fernando Rodney, getting the potential go-ahead run as far as third base with one out on singles by Kyle Seager and Olivo. Tampa Bay wiggled off the hook when Rodney fielded Michael Saunders safety squeeze bunt and threw pinch-runner Munenon Kawasaki out at the plate, then got pinch-hitter John Jaso to line out to center field.
NOTES: The Rays signed OF/DH Hideki Matsui to a minor league contract, and the two-time AL All-Star will report to extended spring training in Port Charlotte on Wednesday. Manager Joe Maddon said there is not a definitive plan for when Matsui might be ready to play. ... With Rays LF Desmond Jennings not starting because Maddon wanted him to have the day off, Zobrist batted leadoff. Jennings wound up entering the game as a defensive replacement in the 10th. ... The Mariners are struggling at the plate with runners in scoring position. They are 0 for their last 25 in those situations, including 0 for 3 on Monday night. ... Tampa Bay has a successful April despite not getting any wins from heralded rookie LHP Matt Moore (0-1, 4.68 ERA), who starts the second game of the series on Tuesday. The Mariners will counter with Hector Noesi (1-2, 8.83)