ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Once again, the young Seattle Mariners were left to lament wasted opportunities in a close game.
Kyle Seager's three-run, first-inning homer stopped an 0-for-30 drought with runners in scoring position, but didn't end his team's hitting woes in key situations on Wednesday night.
After stranding the potential tying run at third base in the eighth inning of a 5-4 loss to Tampa Bay, manager Eric Wedge said youth is not an excuse for inconsistency.
"Obviously we've been very streaky as a club. We have these young kids out there that will have to get beyond that and work to be more consistent," Wedge said.
"The flip side of that is we're in every ball game," the manager added. "We're not looking for moral victories. But we are in every ball game, and we're right there where a situation, a play or an at bat here or there can be the difference in the ball game. That's where we have to get much better."
Sean Rodriguez and Luke Scott homered, helping right-hander James Shields (5-0) weather a rocky first inning to remain unbeaten for Tampa Bay.
Joel Peralta came out of the bullpen to shut down the Seattle threat in the eighth, then worked a perfect ninth for his first save of the season.
"He picked up a real big-league save there with five outs. That was spectacular," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Shields allowed four runs and five hits, walked four and struck out 11 over six innings to win his sixth straight decision over two seasons, matching the longest winning streak of his career. Kyle Seager homered twice off the 2011 All-Star, driving in all of Seattle's runs.
The Mariners struck out 14 times after fanning 24 times in the first two games of the series against Tampa Bay pitching.
"The strikeouts are just ridiculous to me right now. These guys are better than that," Wedge said. "This is not going to continue to happen. We're not going to let it happen."
Rodriguez hit a two-run homer off Blake Beavan (1-4) in the third inning. Scott's solo shot off the Seattle starter glanced off center fielder Michael Saunders' glove before clearing the wall to snap a 4-4 tie in the sixth.
"To be honest, I don't really know what happened there," Saunders said. "I know I got a piece of the ball. That's it. ... It was just one of those plays that happened so fast. I hit the wall and came down without the ball."
The Rays won for the 10th time in 11 games. The Mariners have lost a season-high five straight following a four-game winning streak that included a sweep of Detroit to begin a 10-game, 10-day trip that ends Thursday.
Ichiro Suzuki walked and Jesus Montero reached base on an infield single before Seager's three-run homer got the Mariners off to a fast start.
Seager's second homer of the night, a solo shot into the right-field stands, wiped out the 4-3 lead the Rays took on Jose Molina's two-run double in the fourth.
Shields won again, though he was far from his best. Despite posting a season high for strikeouts, his four walks also were a season high and the right-hander allowed a pair of homers for the second straight start. He threw 38 pitches in the first inning — 119 overall — before turning over a one-run lead to the bullpen.
Peralta got Alex Liddi to foul out on a 3-2 pitch, then Ben Zobrist made a nice running catch in the right field corner on Justin Smoak's fly ball to shut down the Mariners with the potential tying run on third base in the eighth. With closer Fernando Rodney unavailable because he pitched three consecutive days, Peralta fanned two of three batters in the ninth to pick up his ninth career save.
NOTES: Beavan allowed five runs and seven hits in 5 1-3 innings. ... The slumping Smoak was dropped from fourth to seventh in the batting order as the designated hitter Wednesday night. He could remain in the No. 7 hole for a while, however Wedge stressed that he eventually wants Smoak to return to the middle of the lineup. "I've always been one of his biggest fans. I know he's going to get it done. But right now, he's not getting it done. We're in the business of winning ball games here, so I had to make an adjustment," the manager said. ... The Mariners have scored a total of nine runs during their five-game losing streak.