SEATTLE — The exhilaration and joy from Wednesday's dramatic victory that carried the Rays on their cross-country trip disappeared quickly Thursday.
Andy Sonnanstine lost the lead in the eighth inning after a masterful performance, then Dan Wheeler lost the game in the ninth, giving up a leadoff home run to Raul Ibanez that left the Mariners celebrating a 2-1 walkoff win.
"The pitch was a split-finger; I was just trying to put him away (on a 1-and-2 count), see if I could get him to swing and miss, and I just kind of hung it up there," Wheeler said. "He's been hot, too, and that was part of the (pregame) meeting — don't let that guy beat you — so it makes it even worse. But for me, I don't feel like there's one guy I can't go after and get out."
The Rays (68-46) saw their American League East lead over idle Boston shrink to 21/2 games but could have suffered an even worse loss, as rookie sensation Evan Longoria, who leads the team in homers and RBIs, was struck on the back of his right wrist by a J.J. Putz pitch during an unsuccessful ninth-inning rally.
Longoria stayed in the game in obvious pain, but X-rays taken right after the game were negative. Longoria, while sore and with his wrist wrapped, said he felt "okay."
The Rays could have avoided the drama, taking a 1-0 lead into the eighth behind Sonnanstine's strong start. "Wonderful," manager Joe Maddon said.
If Sonnanstine is headed to the bullpen — as could be the case if phenom David Price, who on Thursday improved to 11-0 in the minors, is soon promoted — he is making sure it's not an easy decision.
Sonnanstine was tough into the eighth, retiring 20 of 21 after allowing a leadoff single, and breaking an eight-year-old team record by retiring 17 straight batters from the second inning to the seventh. Esteban Yan retired 16 straight in a July 26, 2000, game at Detroit.
Sonnanstine, who came into the game 11-6, looked like he was going to set another mark, the fastest Ray to 12 wins, until Wladimir Balentien led off the eighth with a blast that hit high on the centerfield wall. St. Petersburg College product Bryan LaHair slapped a single just out of the reach of second baseman Akinori Iwamura, sending Balentien to third. And No. 9 hitter Yuniesky Betancourt followed with a sac fly to left, erasing the 1-0 lead the Rays held over Seattle ace Felix Hernandez.
"They put it together rather quickly,'' Maddon said.
Pinchrunner Miguel Cairo moved up to second in the fly out as Carl Crawford made a casual throw to the cutoff man, but lefty Trever Miller got the dangerous Ichiro Suzuki to ground to third and struck out Jeremy Reed.
The Rays took the lead in the fourth with a run on one hit. Crawford, returning to the lineup after missing three games with a left hamstring strain, walked, went to second on Longoria's single, third on Carlos Pena's fielder's choice grounder and scored on a wild pitch by Hernandez, who allowed only four hits in eight innings.
For the night, Sonnanstine allowed five hits and the one run over 71/3 innings, with no walks and four strikeouts.
"Andy was wonderful, and their guy was very good also,'' Maddon said.
The Rays had a chance to get the lead back in the ninth when Longoria was hit and Carlos Pena sent him to third a single, but Putz struck out Cliff Floyd and Dioner Navarro. "I thought we had a pretty good shot there in the ninth, we just didn't get it done,'' Maddon said.
"A frustrating night," Floyd said.
Maddon brought Wheeler in to start the ninth against the left-handed hitting Ibanez, the subject of trade rumors last week who was a sizzling 11-for-24 during a five-game hitting streak, and he pulled a ball down the rightfield line and over the fence.
"He had two strikes and him, and he's just a good hitter and he kept it fair,'' Maddon said. "I have a lot of faith in Danny against anybody. …
"We just got beat tonight. That happens sometimes."