ST. PETERSBURG — The game was significant enough, a 5-4 loss before a sellout crowd that kept the Rays from reclaiming a share of first place, decided on a ninth-inning homer by Yankees MVP candidate Robinson Cano off league saves leader Rafael Soriano.
And that was merely part of Saturday's story line for the Rays.
By the end of the long day and night, they had lost first baseman Carlos Peña for at least a couple of days, and potentially longer, with a right foot injury and reliever Grant Balfour until potentially mid September with a rib strain as the result of some onfield tomfoolery with pitching coach Jim Hickey.
They made an unexpected decision to call up top pitching prospect Jeremy Hellickson to start Monday, suggesting it may be a cameo with plans to keep the current rotation intact after the extra day's rest.
And the only trade they made by the deadline was for a veteran reliever, Chad Qualls, rather than a hitter to bolster the offense. (Though they did make at least contingency plans to call up slugger Dan Johnson from Triple-A Durham to replace either Peña, whose injury was serious enough to require a late-night MRI exam, or Ben Zobrist, who remains idled with a stiff back.)
Oh yeah, the game …
Matt Garza, seeking an encore to Monday's no-hitter, got off to a good start, allowing only a pair of doubles, and one run, through the first five innings. And the Rays (64-39), eyeing a chance to get back to the top of the AL East for the first time since June 19, started well, taking leads of 1-0 and 2-1 (then 3-1), much on the strength of John Jaso's three extra-base hits. Also, Carl Crawford recorded his 400th career steal.
But Garza began the sixth with a mistake, a misplaced fastball that Derek Jeter redirected for a double followed by a home run by Mark Teixeira that tied it. And after the Rays took another lead, on a massive homer by Matt Joyce off the C-ring catwalk (estimated at 428 feet), Garza made a worse mistake the next inning, hanging a curveball that Nick Swisher crushed to even the score at 4.
For the night, Garza allowed four runs on five hits, walking one and striking out nine.
"We battled, fought back, and this one falls on me," he said. "They spot me a two-run lead and I give it away, and then they spot me another run and I give it away. That's just uncalled for.
"I had these guys beat and I just gave it away. That's all there is to it."
Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez — who went 0-for-3 to extend his quest for 600 homers for at least another day — didn't exactly disagree.
"That's a huge win," he said. "I felt like we stole one tonight, because they were pretty much in control all night."
At least until the last inning, with the vibrant crowd of 36,973 equally loud for both sides.
When neither team scored in the eighth, Rays manager Joe Maddon called on Soriano to work the ninth even with the score tied, figuring he liked their chances to win the game better without facing Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who likely wouldn't pitch until the Yankees took a lead.
But that strategy failed when Soriano — who left before the clubhouse opened to the media — gave up a 1-and-0 homer to the sizzling Cano, who has 21 on the season to go with 71 RBIs and a .334 average.
"It's unfortunate," Maddon said. "Overall, I thought Matt pitched a really good game. They just hit homers on us. They beat us by the homer later in the game, that's all they did. They're very capable of doing that."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]