If the Tampa Bay Rays have any intentions on starting a new winning streak, they'll have to get past Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez this afternoon in the finale of a three-game series from Safeco Field.
The Rays had won seven in a row until last night's 3-2 loss and were on the losing end of a decision for the first time since Aug. 5 versus Baltimore. The Rays had a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth, but a sacrifice fly from Justin Smoak and an RBI single by Eric Thames ended the streak.
Rays closer Fernando Rodney failed in his attempt to preserve the win and was saddled with the loss and his second blown save. The effort wasted a strong performance from Matt Moore, who struck out nine batters and allowed only one run in seven innings. Joel Peralta threw a scoreless eighth inning.
A fielding error by Rays first baseman Carlos Pena on a bunt by Chone Figgins kept the inning alive and set up Seattle's rally. Pena's soft toss to first base went over the head of Sean Rodriguez.
"That's a play that Carlos makes 100 out of 100 times," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I don't know exactly what had happened, it was very routine."
Desmond Jennings had three hits and B.J. Upton went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored for Tampa Bay, which needs a win Wednesday to capture a fifth straight road series. They haven't lost a series on the road since June 25-27 at Kansas City.
The Rays are now tied with Baltimore at six games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East and for the top Wild Card spot. They are 4-1 on a 10-game road trip and will visit the LA Angels of Anaheim for four games over the weekend.
Taking the mound for the Rays Wednesday will be Jeremy Hellickson, who has won three of his last four starts. He previously pitched in Friday's 12-6 win at Minnesota and yielded three runs in five innings to improve to 7-7 in 21 starts with a 3.52 earned run average.
Hellickson, a right-hander, did not record a decision in a 3-2 win over Seattle on April 30, when he hurled seven innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts and no walks. He is 3-0 with a sparkling 0.92 ERA in four career starts against the Mariners.
Seattle has won three of four games since a five-game slide and used late-inning heroics to spoil Tampa Bay's success. Dustin Ackley had three hits and Kyle Seager went 2-for-4 before scoring the tying run on Smoak's sac fly with one out. Smoak was called up from Triple-A Tacoma to fill the roster spot that opened when first baseman Mike Carp landed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left groin.
After Miguel Olivo struck out, Thames plated Figgins for the winning run on a base hit off Rodney, who had converted 22 straight save opportunities.
"That's arguably the best closer in the game right now," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "(Thames) did a good job staying in the path of the baseball and got enough of it to get it over the infielder's head."
Mariners reliever Stephen Pryor earned the win with 1 2/3 scoreless innings, while starter Kevin Millwood struck out eight and yielded two runs in seven innings of work.
Seattle, which is 1-1 on a nine-game homestand and will also host Minnesota and Cleveland, hopes Hernandez can pitch the club to a series win Wednesday. King Felix is 6-0 with a 1.73 earned run average in his last 11 starts and did not record a decision in Friday's 6-5 setback at Anaheim, where he gave up five runs -- four earned -- in seven innings. That outing came one start after his two-hit shutout of the Yankees on Aug. 4.
Hernandez, a right-hander, is 5-3 in 12 starts at Safeco Field this season and did not factor in the outcome of a 3-2 loss at Tampa Bay on April 30. He struck out nine Rays and permitted one run in eight frames. Hernandez is 3-2 with a 2.28 ERA in 10 career starts against Tampa Bay.
The Rays are 6-3 against the Mariners this season and have won 10 of the previous 13 meetings between the two ballclubs.