ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays felt better about David Price, even if their ace didn't think so.
But closer Fernando Rodney was the cause for concern Tuesday, taking over for Price in the ninth inning and giving up a two-run single to Ichiro Suzuki that was the difference in a 4-3 loss that ended the Rays' winning streak at four.
"Another hard-fought game,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We've lost a couple of those already this season where we normally don't. When we have a lead late, we're normally able to hold on to that and win that game, and that's something we have to start doing.''
Price, who won 20 games and the American League Cy Young Award last season, is now winless through his first five starts, and with a 5.52 ERA. And he's not happy about it.
"We're still 0-5 when I pitch; I don't feel better,'' he said in an abrupt postgame media session that lasted just more than a minute.
Price has said he feels fine and was just lacking something in his delivery to get it all together, and there were times Tuesday, before a Tropicana Field crowd of 17,644, when he looked sharp, hitting 95 mph early.
But, as was his problem Thursday in Baltimore, he couldn't hold the lead, twice giving up one-run advantages.
In the fourth, Price got Eduardo Nunez to swing at strike three, but the ball bounced by catcher Jose Molina, and ensuing singles by Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells scored Nunez.
The Rays (9-11) retook the lead in the seventh, but Price gave it right back, allowing singles to Ichiro and Jayson Nix, with the run scoring on a slow bouncer by Brett Gardner.
Price started the ninth but was removed after allowing a leadoff single to Cano, who then stole second, the 18th successful steal in 21 tries vs. the Rays this season.
Rodney got one out, then the Rays intentionally walked Travis Hafner and Rodney unintentionally walked Lyle Overbay to load the bases.
That set up a matchup with Ichiro, who was 2-for-12 in previous meetings. Rodney did what he does, throwing a fastball clocked at 99 mph. And Ichiro did what he does, lining it to center for a two-run single.
Evan Longoria hit Mariano Rivera's first pitch into the leftfield seats, but that was all the Rays could manage off the Yankees' closer.
The Rays scored in the first, but it was one of those should-have-had-more situations, second and third with no outs. Ben Zobrist got one run home on a sac fly, but that was all, and it remained all until the seventh, the Rays going meekly — and quickly, including a fourth inning when they saw only four pitches from Phil Hughes.
Matt Joyce drew a walk to lead off the seventh, and with the Rays in a no-bunt mode, he went to second on a one-out single by James Loney, then scored on a single by Molina. But that rally, too, was inefficient, as three baserunners equaled only one run, Loney thrown out at third and Kelly Johnson striking out.
Maddon set the lineup with input from the attendees at the Tampa Chamber of Commerce luncheon, a practice that had produced victories the two previous seasons. Maddon provides the framework and lets the guests help fill it in.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]com.