ST. PETERSBURG -- The moment the ball left Josh Willingham's bat, every one of the 18,763 Rays fans watching wondered whether B.J. Upton could win the race to grab the ball before it hit the artificial surface at Tropicana Field.
Unfortunately for the Rays, Upton couldn't quite get to the ball that landed and turned into the game-winning hit in the Rays' 5-4 loss to the Twins on Friday night.
By losing, the Rays fell to 7-7 on the season and saw their home win streak snapped at three.
The Rays carried all the momentum heading into the seventh. Matt Moore, though not at his best, had held the Twins to two runs over six innings, and the offense had just hung a three-spot on the Twins to take a 4-2 lead. Then, Moore struck out Chris Parmelee to start the seventh.
But slowly, the Twins began to reverse the momentum. Alexi Casilla singled through the middle to chase the Rays' rookie left-hander. Brandon Gomes then took over and struggled, allowing a single to Denard Span and a walk to Jamey Carroll to load the bases.
At that point, Rays manager Joe Maddon called for Joel Peralta to face Joe Mauer and the scrappy right-hander came through, retiring the Twins' slugger on a lazy pop to shallow left. That brought Willingham to the plate.
The left fielder had hit safely in every game for the Twins thus far in 2012. Peralta aggressively got ahead in the count, 1-2.
"We were trying to go up with a fastball," catcher Chris Gimenez said. "We had thrown some offspeed pitches, some good pitches. We were in a count favorable to us. I wanted to elevate a heater to see if he would pop it up or swing right through it."
Other thoughts rattled around in Willingham's head.
"I was just battling," Willingham said. "It was a 1-2 count. I wasn't looking for anything. I was trying to see the ball out of his hand and trying to see it as deep as I could, because he does have a good split."
Peralta's pitch did not arrive as high as Gimenez and Peralta would have liked.
"I just reacted to the fastball," Willingham said.
Gimenez might as well have been watching an auto accident.
"Sometimes, you'd like to grab a guy's bat before it happens," Gimenez said. "You see it in slow motion, anyway."
Upton, who was shaded to left, tore after the ball.
"Off the bat, I actually thought I had a bead on it. But the closer I got to it, it wasn't hit true," Upton said. "Somehow, he hit a ball the other way that was top spinning. ... It was just good placement. ... There wasn't much I could do about it."
Initially, Gimenez thought Upton might make the catch, as well.
"But it had good fade to it," Gimenez said. "They just started running the bases. And I'm mad at myself, 'Did I call the right pitch?' But honestly, I think we both know it was the right pitch. It was just a little bit off of where we both wanted it."
By the time the ball returned to the infield, Willingham stood on second with a three-run double that proved to be the difference in the game.
The Twins built an early 2-0 lead on a pair of RBI singles by Mauer, who leads all active Major Leaguers in batting average at Tropicana Field with a .443 mark.
Moore battled, but didn't seem to have his best stuff, finishing with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two). But he got some help from his fielders, who turned three double plays.
"I got myself a couple double-play balls and got some good defense behind me," Moore said. "They really kept us in it."
Matt Joyce hit his fourth home run of the season in the bottom of the fifth off Twins starter Liam Hendriks to cut the lead to 2-1. And Evan Longoria hit a two-run homer off Hendriks to fuel the Rays' three-run sixth that gave them a 4-2 lead.
But the Rays could not hold the lead, thanks largely to the bullpen's relative ineffectiveness. Nevertheless, Maddon saw a lot of good from his team's effort on Friday night.
"There's always that fight within our group, which I love," Maddon said. "They just beat us tonight. They got the hits they needed, we did not, and they won. We just have to move on."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.