MIAMI — The Rays were feeling pretty good about a pair of nice comeback stories Friday as lefty reliever J.P. Howell returned to action for the first time since September 2009 and outfielder Justin Ruggiano made his first big-league appearance since 2008.
But they weren't very happy by the end as the Marlins came back for a 5-3 interleague victory.
"Definitely an unfortunate thing," leftfielder Johnny Damon said.
Howell, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery, pitched a hitless sixth. ("Not as fun when you lose, but it was still a great time,'' Howell said.) Ruggiano, called up Friday to take Dan Johnson's roster spot, was thrust into action when B.J. Upton left with a tight gluteal muscle (though he could return today), had a couple of good at-bats and made a key play in center.
And the Rays (25-20) felt they would be happy returns when they reclaimed the momentum by rallying to tie in the seventh thanks to the second of Matt Joyce's two triples.
But Joel Peralta, who had been so good in clutch situations, had a bad night, allowing the Marlins to score twice in the eighth.
"No excuses. It just (stinks)," Peralta said. "After we tied the game, it looked like we were going to get them. But I let it get away. I should have made better pitches, but I didn't."
A single by Hanley Ramirez and double by Logan Morrison got the Marlins started. They got their first run on a sac fly to medium depth rightfield, which set up the second as Joyce made a questionable throw to the plate given that Ramirez was likely to score easily. That allowed Morrison to advance to third, and he scored on what essentially was a sac pop fly by Mike Stanton that Casey Kotchman ran down behind first but wasn't in position to make a strong throw on.
Manager Joe Maddon said Joyce's decision could be debated — "I don't know that he could have gotten either guy" — but it was more a matter of Peralta's pitches.
"They got to Joel," Maddon said. "That happens some times."
The Rays, after their second 4 a.m. arrival in three days, skipped batting practice on the field then came out swinging, taking a 2-0 lead on Joyce's two-out triple. The Marlins immediately halved the margin off Andy Sonnanstine as East Lake High product Chris Coghlan doubled and later scored.
Sonnanstine got to the fourth then gave up a pair of home runs. The first, on the first pitch to Morrison, was a fastball he left over the plate. The second, after Ruggiano nabbed Greg Dobbs trying to stretch a single, came on what Sonnanstine thought was a well-placed cutter to Stanton.
"When it left my hand, I didn't think, "Oh no,' " he said. "It was tracking right toward the glove. He hit the (heck) out of it."
Sonnanstine has been slightly better in each of his three starts filling in for the injured Jeff Niemann but is 0-1, 6.08 overall and has yet to work more than five innings. Maddon said postgame he was set to make a fourth on Wednesday in Detroit.
"Not great, not awful," Maddon said. "Just kind of a nondescript, workman kind of an outing. Got us five. Definitely gave us a chance to win the game."
And that would have been something to really feel good about.