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THAT RELIEVER STUCK IN THE MIDDLE AGAIN

Joel Peralta doesn't get the atonement he sought, giving up the go-ahead runs in the sixth.

Philadelphia doesn't have many kind memories for the Rays, not the way the 2008 World Series turned out. But you've got to believe they woke up happy to be there this morning after a miserable stay in steamy Washington.

Thursday's 5-2 loss was their second in three nights to the National League East-leading Nationals, and it turned in a somewhat fitting way, with Joel Peralta, the prime topic of conversation after being caught with pine tar in his glove and then suspended eight games earlier in the day, on the mound.

Peralta said one of the biggest benefits of appealing his suspension, and thus putting it on hold, was the opportunity to pitch one more time against the Nationals, his former team that turned him in to the umpires Tuesday.

"I'm allowed to pitch (Thursday), and that's all I care about right now," he said in the afternoon.

But it didn't turn out to be such a good idea by the end of the night. Peralta gave up the two sixth-inning runs that allowed the Nationals to break a 2-2 tie and go on to win.

Peralta had pitched Wednesday and did well, admittedly fired up by the chorus of boos from the crowd and with additional velocity on his fastball to show for it. But he didn't have the same stuff Thursday.

Peralta got two outs but allowed a double to No. 8 hitter Jesus Flores, then, after intentionally walking pinch-hitter Adam LaRoche, a double to Danny Espinosa to make it 4-2.

The Nationals added a run in the seventh off Wade Davis as the Rays dropped to 38-31.

"We'll get beyond it,'' manager Joe Maddon said. "We play at Philadelphia (tonight); we'll be fine in 24 hours."

Thursday's loss wasn't all Peralta's fault. The Rays continued to play shaky defense, making another error and a series of misplays, and they wasted repeated opportunities with runners in scoring position.

Their lack of depth also continued to be an issue. In two key situations they were forced to use Elliot Johnson and Will Rhymes as pinch-hitters, and both struck out with the bases loaded.

Rookie left-hander Matt Moore went in confident after winning his previous three starts, but he wasn't as sharp in a five-inning outing. He allowed only two runs on three hits, but he walked four and threw 93 pitches to get the first 15 outs.

He didn't get a lot of help from his defense, which has been a recurring theme for the Rays.

Centerfielder B.J. Upton ran in a long way to catch Michael Morse's shallow fly for the second out of the third, but then he failed to make a good throw to the plate, allowing Espinosa to score.

The play also allowed the inning to continue, which hurt twice as much when Ian Desmond followed with a single that scored Bryce Harper to give the Nationals a 2-1 lead.

Though it didn't lead to a run, the Rays looked bad when Desmond broke for second as first baseman Carlos Pena held the ball on the infield.

The Rays, who had taken a 1-0 lead in the second when Desmond Jennings singled in Hideki Matsui, pulled even in the sixth. Sean Rodriguez singled in Ben Zobrist, who led off with a double.

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at Phillies

Tonight-Sunday

What's new: The last-place Phillies have been one of the majors' biggest disappointments, though the injury absences of 1B Ryan Howard and 2B Chase Utley are a huge part of that. Also missing are RHP Roy Halladay (injured), RHP Jose Contreras and INF Freddy Galvis. The offense can still be dangerous, with C Carlos Ruiz among the NL batting leaders, and the starting pitching dominant. Former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon now anchors the bullpen.

Key stat: Since May 1, the Phillies lead all NL teams and rank fourth in the majors with 228 runs.

Connections: Rays OF Rich Thompson spent the past 4-1/2 seasons in the Phillies minor-league system. ... Phillies INF Ty Wigginton, RHP Chad Qualls and assistant general manager Scott Proefrock are former Rays.

Series history: Rays lead 12-6 overall, 6-3 in Philadelphia, 2-1 at Citizens Bank.

Marc Topkin, Times staff writer

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