April 20, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins left fielder Josh Willingham (16) hits a 3-RBI double in the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
Life above .500 was a short one for the Rays. Coming home after consecutive impressive victories over the Blue Jays, the team couldn't maintain a seventh inning lead, giving up three runs in the frame to fall behind by one, a lead they would never regain.
It wasn't the best of starts for Matt Moore -- though considerably better than his previous outing. He got through six and a third (his third straight start over six innings) but couldn't locate his pitches well enough to go deeper. He was able to get seven swings and misses, which is good, but walked three batters and struck out just two, which is bad. On the season he now has 12 walks and 11 strikeouts. He consistently missed up, throwing 16 called balls above the strikezone.
The real issue arose in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and the Rays clinging to a two run lead.
Bases loaded and one out with Joel Peralta facing Joe Mauer. This was an interesting matchup as Mauer had reached base safely three times on the night, and owns a career OPS over 1.000 at Tropicana Field, and the right handed Peralta has reverse splits. The battle ended in Peralta's favor when Mauer popped out softly to left field. This brought up Josh Willingham, among the hottest hitters in the game. After getting ahead 1-2, and with the defense shaded for the right handed Willingham to pull, Peralta left a fastball up in the zone that was pushed past the outstretched arm of B.J. Upton for a bases clearing double. He hadn't allowed a hit in his last three outings. That put the Rays in the hole they'd never climb out of.
A half inning earlier the Rays had scored three runs of their own, and likely should have scored four, which would have made Willingham's double sting a bit less. With the bases loaded and no outs Carlos Pena hit a ground ball to second that was scooped by the fielder, thrown to second for the first out and flung to first where he was called out. A run scored on the play but after viewing the replay it sure seemed as if Pena beat the throw to first. The next batter, Evan Longoria, hit two run homer to deep left field. Maybe the Twins pitch Longoria differently if there are two men on instead of one, but that run ultimately cost the Rays at least an opportunity at a victory.
James Shields goes tomorrow, he of the 16.1 innings pitched in his last two starts. Another outing like that would go a long way to saving an already taxed bullpen.