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Johnny Damon's homer lifts Tampa Bay Rays past Seattle Mariners 8-7

ST. PETERSBURG — Johnny Damon's second home run trot Sunday afternoon was quicker — and "much sweeter."

Two innings after Damon's grand slam was changed to a three-run double due to an instant replay review, the veteran designated hitter left no doubt in his walkoff solo homer to lead off the ninth in the Rays 8-7 come-from-behind win over the Mariners in front of 17,226 at Tropicana Field.

"What else can you say? Johnny was pretty much the team," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said.

Damon said he thought about bunting to start the ninth to set the table for Longoria. But instead, he ripped reliever Dan Cortes' first pitch of the inning 362 feet into the rightfield seats, setting the stage for a huge home plate celebration. His seventh career walkoff homer gave the Rays (69-56) a sweep, their fifth straight win and 10th win in their past 12.

"Fortunately, I hit it far enough," Damon said.

Damon paused at second for a few moments before rounding the bases in the seventh. He eventually got sent back when umpires correctly ruled the ball hit off the yellow top of the rightfield fence and back into play.

"The baseball gods were kind of looking out for him, I guess," Rays outfielder Matt Joyce said. "He really came through for us."

Damon — and the rest of the Rays offense — also came through for right-hander James Shields, who had a frustrating day in allowing seven runs and 12 hits over 71/3 innings. Shields, who fell behind 3-0 and 5-2, was given a two-run lead into the eighth but gave up a tying homer to Wily Mo Pena on his 110th and final pitch.

"They did a phenomenal job of coming back right there," Shields said. "This shows you what kind of team we are."

Joyce said the Rays, who have four walkoff wins in their past 11 home games, are starting to come together and have that confidence that, "even if we're down five, six runs, we're not throwing in the towel."

Instead, Tampa Bay chipped away. Joyce and catcher John Jaso hit consecutive two-out, two-strike RBI singles in the second. Ben Zobrist added a sacrifice fly in the sixth.

They broke through in the seventh after righty Michael Pineda, a top rookie of the year candidate, departed, working three walks, a ground-rule double and RBI groundout off Jamey Wright.

Damon then hit a 3-and-1 pitch from Jeff Gray off the top of the fence, the ball bouncing back into play. He didn't jog home until second-base umpire Mike Winters gave the signal. After a review of 2 minutes, 41 seconds, Rays manager Joe Maddon said the umpires made the "absolutely right" call. (There was even yellow paint on the retrieved ball.)

Maddon said plate umpire Mark Wegner also got it right in the eighth, when he ruled a pitch by Cortes hit Desmond Jennings, negating a wild pitch that would have brought Joyce home with the go-ahead run.

Joyce tried again in the next at-bat — with Damon at the plate — getting thrown out after a Cortes pitch sailed off the backstop.

"It's one of those things where you look back and are like, 'Man, maybe I should have dove headfirst and would have been safe,' " Joyce said. "It's just one of those things. That's baseball."

As was the case with Damon's near grand slam.

"They made the right call," Damon said. "I just wish I would have (hit) the ball a bit more."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Johnny Damon's homer lifts Tampa Bay Rays past Seattle Mariners 8-7 08/21/11 [Last modified: Monday, August 22, 2011 7:21am]
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