ST. PETERSBURG — Rookie Matt Moore gave the Rays a chance in Friday's game against the Twins with a solid start.
Third baseman Evan Longoria gave them the lead with a two-out, two-run homer in the sixth.
But the Rays bullpen gave it away in the seventh, red-hot leftfielder Josh Willingham lacing a fortuitously placed double to right-center to drive in three and hand Tampa Bay a 5-4 loss in front of 18,763 at Tropicana Field.
"It was just really, really well-placed," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Willingham's hit. "Sometimes, you're going to get smashed like that. Despite all of our efforts to be in the right spot, he beat us right there."
As precarious a situation as the Rays faced in the seventh, Maddon still liked their chances.
Clinging to a 4-2 lead, Moore and Brandon Gomes combined to load the bases with one out for left-handed hitting slugger Joe Mauer.
Maddon loves righty Joel Peralta against lefties — a .155 average last season — and picked the veteran over lefties J.P. Howell (unavailable after pitching on consecutive days) and Jake McGee (who Maddon said was "somewhat available").
The move looked brilliant at first, Mauer flying out to shallow left and a run not scoring.
But after Peralta got ahead 1-and-2 on Willingham, he threw an elevated fastball that wasn't high enough. Willingham ripped it to the right-center gap, extending his hitting streak to 14 games.
"That's the one pitch that (Peralta) didn't get where it was supposed to get," Rays catcher Chris Gimenez said. "Sometimes, you'd like to grab the guy's bat before it happens. It's just one of those ones where you see it in slow motion; just see the ball come off his bat."
Centerfielder B.J. Upton, making his season debut after coming off the disabled list, initially thought he had a chance to catch it. But he was positioned a shade toward left-center. The closer he got, he realized — with the ball's top spin — he couldn't get it, and it bounced several feet away from him.
"There wasn't much I can do about it," Upton said. "It was closer than you probably think it was, but at that point, I can't dive for it."
It spoiled Moore's first career start at the Trop. While there were concerns during his last outing of tipping pitches, Moore's problem Friday was his location, walking more batters (three) than he struck out (two). The left-hander lasted 61/3 innings, allowing eight hits and charged with three runs. He was helped by a couple of double plays.
"I shouldn't be walking guys like that, especially on four or five pitches," Moore said. "I talk so much about getting ahead in the count. I've got to do a lot better job of that more consistently."
Said Maddon: "It was a nice outing, but you know that he's got more in him than that."
The Rays (7-7) had more offense in them in the previous two games, when they scored a combined 21 runs in wins over the Blue Jays. But other than a solo homer by Matt Joyce and Longoria's two-run blast, they didn't muster enough Friday.
"There was still that fight; always that fight," Maddon said. "They just beat us. They got the hit they needed, and we did not."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]com.