MINNEAPOLIS — The Tampa Bay Rays' Carlos Peña has said momentum is important and can do "wonders for you."
Problem is, the Tampa Bay Rays can't seem to find any.
One night after showing some life in a series-opening win over the Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay fell back to the formula of its recent struggles in Tuesday's 4-3 loss in front of 18,974 at the Metrodome. Like many of their close losses this season, there was a little mistake or missed opportunity here or there, from a baserunning gaffe to hitting a batter with the bases loaded to going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
They got a second life when Tampa Bay Rays utilityman Ben Zobrist came through with a tying pinch-hit homer off Twins closer Joe Nathan in the ninth, his eighth homer in his past 19 games.
But the Twins came right back in the bottom half, loading the bases on reliever J.P. Howell before Justin Morneau gave them a walkoff win by beating out a potential inning-ending double-play grounder, scoring Jose Morales. The hard-hit grounder to Akinori Iwamura was in a good spot for the five-man infield, but they couldn't convert.
The Rays, 29-18 in one-run games last season, are 2-5 in those this year. And they're 1-8 against left-handed starters.
"Basically a lot of those close games we've had little items like that go against us, and we have to get beyond that," manager Joe Maddon said. "We've lost a lot of one-run games … just based on a little mistake here or there, which are huge actually. And we just have to get beyond that. It'll start balancing out soon."
Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano, winless in his previous four starts, had tamed the Rays hitters by holding them to two runs in 62/3 innings.
Tampa Bay (8-13) is in danger of dropping a sixth straight series before hosting the red-hot Red Sox for four games at Tropicana Field.
Boston had an 11-game winning streak snapped with a loss to the Indians on Tuesday. The Rays would settle for their season-high streak (two) right about now.
"We're still a pretty young team; we're subject to the highs and the lows," Zobrist said. "Right now it feels like a low. I guarantee once we start hitting that high I think the wins are gonna come pretty quickly."
Right-hander James Shields didn't have his best stuff, uncharacteristically walking four (one intentional) and hitting another with the bases loaded, and said they could put the loss on him.
But it was a team effort.
There was Willy Aybar getting thrown out at the plate with one out when he tried to advance on a ground ball to short by Dioner Navarro.
Aybar knocked in Evan Longoria on a sacrifice fly to tie the score at 2 in the sixth. But that inning ended when Peña, picked off first base, was thrown out trying to get to second.
The Twins got the go-ahead run in the bottom half, when Shields hit Brian Buscher with the bases loaded and two outs.
The Rays had chances again in the seventh and eighth innings, each time the tying run reaching second base. In the seventh, B.J. Upton, who is in a 1-for-23 skid, struck out to end the threat.
In the eighth, Carl Crawford reached second with one out. But left-handed reliever Jose Mijares struck out the next two, including the hot-hitting Peña and Aybar, to thwart the threat.
"That's the difference between this year and last year; we're not winning the close games," Akinori Iwamura said through an interpreter. "We're gonna stay positive and stay patient and see what happens."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]