ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — One swing of Evan Longoria’s bat erased another night of frustration for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Longoria hit a two-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning off Padres closer Huston Street on Saturday night, rallying the Rays to an 8-7 victory over San Diego.
Street (0-2) retired the first two batters in the ninth before walking Ben Zobrist on a full count. Longoria followed with his ninth home run, handing Street his first blown save in nine tries this season.
“You need games like this, whether it’s myself or anybody coming through in the clutch, to kind of boost morale and jump-start everything,” Longoria said.
Failing to finish off Zobrist is what bothered Street the most.
“You get him 1-2, you’ve got to make a pitch,” he said. “I’m frustrated about that just as much as leaving a pitch to Longoria in the middle of the plate.”
It was the fourth straight win for the Rays, who had to come back after Jesus Guzman’s pinch-hit grand slam off Jeremy Hellickson helped San Diego overcame a 6-2 deficit in the seventh. If the Padres had held on, it would have been the 14th game the Rays lost this season after leading. They had lost twice this week after taking big leads into the late innings.
“It would have been among the top three worst losses of the year,” said manager Joe Maddon, who was uncharacteristically perturbed about another blown lead.
“That’s not going to happen very often,” Maddon said. “We were fortunate Longo was in the right spot, fortunate that Zo gets it as a hitter. You had all this talent coming together at that particular moment. But you can’t go to the dance playing like that. When you get leads, you’ve got to put the other team away. I’m not happy with that. That’s inappropriate. That’s got to stop.”
Cesar Ramos (1-0) got the win as the Rays moved up to .500 for the first time since April 7.
James Loney hit a two-run homer as the Rays roughed up San Diego’s Burch Smith in the second inning of his major league debut. The Rays scored six runs on five hits and a couple of walks in the inning and drove Smith out of the game.
“I feel the difference between the first and second inning was I was locating the fastball better. The second inning I was leaving pitches over the plate,” said Smith. “Hitters at this level are going to take advantage of mistakes. (I’ll) come back next time and do better.”
Hellickson retired 16 straight batters after giving up three hits, including Chase Headley’s two-run homer, in the first.
Hellickson took a four-run lead into the seventh, when he walked Carlos Quentin to start the Padres’ rally. After Guzman’s slam, Quentin walked again in the same inning, this time with the bases loaded against Jamey Wright to force in the lead run that made it 7-6.
“It was a huge blow at the time, but our spirit didn’t wane,” Longoria said. “We stayed in the game, continued to have good at bats, and we’re happy to get the results that we did.”
Smith, a 23-year-old righty called up from Double-A San Antonio, got three quick outs, including a couple of strikeouts in his first inning. But he walked Longoria to lead off the second and Loney followed with his second homer of the season. Smith threw 26 pitches in the inning without getting an out. Tyson Ross finished the inning for the Padres and pitched four shutout innings of relief.
Hellickson pitched 6 2-3 innings, giving up six earned runs on six hits while striking out eight. He has had leads in each of his last four starts, but has not won any of them.
NOTES: San Diego optioned RHP Brad Boxberger to Triple-A Tucson to open a roster spot for Smith. Boxberger appeared in two games for the Padres. …. Padres LHP Clayton Richard, recovering from an intestinal virus and eligible to come off the disabled list on May 20, will pitch for Triple-A Tucson in a rehab game on Thursday . . . Rays CF and leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings was out of the lineup for the second straight night. Manager Joe Maddon said he’s simply giving Jennings, who’s batting .244 and has a season-best seven-game hitting streak, some rest. “I think with a little respite, this guy is going to be even better when he comes back. There’s nothing wrong. I just want to give him a break,” Maddon said. Sam Fuld made his second straight start in center field. . . . Smith was the 443rd player drafted in 2011 and the ninth to make it to the majors.