LOS ANGELES — In their 16 seasons, the Rays had been everywhere, man, playing in Tokyo, Montreal, Disney, and new stadiums in seven different cities, including two in New York, 40 in all.
But until Friday, they had never been to Dodger Stadium. And it turned out to be a horrible experience as they blew a big lead late and ended up with a stinging 7-6 loss that showed them first-hand why the Dodgers have been the majors' hottest team,
"I can't believe that just happened,'' reliever Joel Peralta said in the stunned and silent Rays clubhouse. "That's unbelievable.''
The loss dropped the Rays to 66-48, keeping them two games behind the American League East-leading Red Sox, and saddling them with their first three-game losing streak since mid-June.
The Rays took an early 6-0 lead and, with another strong outing from David Price, carried it into the seventh, then, even after some shaky bullpen work by just-called up Josh Lueke, still took a 6-3 lead into the ninth. But they ended up losing, shortly after 2 a.m. Eastern time, as closer Fernando Rodney threw several pitches that got hit then threw wildly past second base after fielding a comebacker to allow the winning run to score.
"That happened tonight,'' Rodney said. "That's over tonight. There's nothing we can do about it.''
Rodney had a lot to forget, coming in against the bottom of the Dodgers order and allowing hits to four of the first five he faced,
"A three-run lead in the ninth inning with Fernando, we're usually in pretty good shape,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Rodney allowed a leadoff single to Skip Schumaker — the only pitch of the inning he said he regretted — then a one-out triple to Mark Ellis as Ben Zobrist got too aggressive and tried and missed a diving catch on a ball down the leftfield line, allowing the run to score. Nick Punto followed with a double to left that made it 6-5, and then Adrian Gonzalez delivered another double to right that tied it 6-6.
"The other pitches were down, good location. They hit the ball very well.'' Rodney said. "There's not a lot of frustration because I knew I made good pitches to try to get out of the inning.''
The Rays then intentionally walked Yasiel Puig and had a chance to escape when Rodney gloved Jerry Hairston's comebacker and tried to start an inning-ending double play, but threw wildly past second.
Rodney said he didn't have a target since neither shortstop Yunel Escobar nor second baseman Ryan Roberts were at the base, but his view may have been skewed like his hat is worn.
"I saw the ground ball and I catch the ball, but I really (don't) see Escobar or Roberts in a good location to throw the ball,'' he said. "So I throw the ball because I think there's got to be somebody there. I throw the ball right to the base.''
Actually he sailed it several feet wide of the base, allowing Adrian Gonzalez to race home and rocking Dodger Stadium with what left of the crowd of 51,083. "Just a bad throw,'' Maddon said.
In theory, the game should have never gotten to Rodney. With a 6-1 lead, Maddon had Jake McGee start the eighth and after he got two outs planned to turn it over to Lueke, who was called up Friday as the Rays designated for assignment Kyle Farnsworth, to get the last four outs.
"He has great stuff,'' Maddon said. "That's the kind of moment that he has to be able to accomplish here.''
But Lueke failed, miserably, giving up an RBI double to Yasiel Puig and a walk.
"Sucked,'' Lueke said. "Plain and simple, nothing else you can really say about it. (Expletive) effort."
Maddon was then forced to use Peralta and eventually Rodney, whom he was "really, really trying to avoid" given the seemingly safe margin. "You have to understand when you have that kind of a lead you can't keep expending the guys that need to pitch in tighter situations,'' Maddon said.
Price said he felt tired and was not sharp, but he still worked seven strong innings, allowing only an unearned run and seven hits, lowering his ERA to 1.40 in eight starts since coming off the disabled list. He did, however, actually walk a batter — Hairston in the seventh — his first after a club-record 351/3 without, second in 63-plus innings since returning.
"I felt okay; I didn't feel as good as I felt in my however many starts I made since coming back,'' Price said. "That was the most erratic I was, the worst fastball command I had.''
The Rays, taking advantage of several welcoming gifts from the weary Dodgers in terms of fielding miscues, posted three runs in the second and then three more in the fifth, but it wasn't enough against a Dodgers team that is a majors-best 35-8 since June 22.
James Loney, who spent seven seasons with the Dodgers until an August 2012 trade to Boston, had three hits, including a two-run single in the second.
Shortstop Yunel Escobar had a pair of hits and knocked in three runs, and rookie Wil Myers was on base three times, with two hits and a walk.
The Rays took a 3-0 lead in the second, with all kinds of help. Myers, who was more impressive Friday than Puig in the showcase of top rookies, led off with a single when Hairston misplayed his drive.
Zobrist hit a grounder to short that Nick Punto bungled. Escobar singled in a run when Puig broke late on his drive to center. Then Loney welcomed himself back with a two-run single and moved up when Puig unnecessarily threw home.
They doubled the margin in the fifth after loading the bases when Sean Rodriguez singled, Evan Longoria doubled and Myers was intentionally walked. Zobrist singled in one, and then Escobar singled in two more.
But it wouldn't be enough as the Dodgers kept coming back, putting balls in play. "A night of perfectly placed on their part,'' Maddon said.
As tough a loss as it was, Maddon insisted they had to treat it the same, forgetting quickly, especially with an afternoon game on Saturday.
"It's no fun, I'll tell you that. That's part of the problem we had earlier in the season. That kind of loss bothered us earlier in the season,'' Maddon said. "We had command of that game; we played definitely well enough to win up until the last inning and we did not.''