Rays' rally falls short against Dodgers
Tampa Bay cuts early deficit to one, but LA pulls away late
ST. PETERSBURG -- By the second inning, Andy Sonnanstine knew he didn't have his best stuff.
The Devil Rays right-hander explained that his breaking pitches weren't as sharp and his location was nowhere near pinpoint.
"I definitely felt my slider wasn't as sharp tonight," Sonnanstine said. "And I was struggling with my changeup."
Veteran Luis Gonzalez took advantage of Sonnanstine's plight with a leadoff home run in the second inning, and Andre Ethier added an RBI double to stake the Dodgers to a two-run lead en route to a 6-3 win over the Rays in front of a crowd of 14,961 on Friday night at Tropicana Field.
Somewhere in the midst of the loss, a real baseball fan could appreciate the flawed beauty of Sonnanstine's effort.
A pitcher realizing he doesn't have his best stuff will normally show his true self by either panicking or reaching inside and finding a way to compete. Sonnanstine showed the latter.
"There's some good hitters coming up to the plate and you don't have all your weapons," Sonnanstine said. "I don't know if you want to panic. [You have to] try to rise to the occasion as much as possible."
Sonnanstine handled the second-inning hiccup and went on to pitch seven innings, while holding the Dodgers to four runs on 10 hits.
"[Andy] wasn't as sharp as he normally is, but he only gave up the four points," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought that was his least sharp performance to this point. But he gave us a chance to win. And I think that's what he is always going to do. He's always going to give us a chance to win. He doesn't cave in. He doesn't lose his focus."
Maddon almost sounded more impressed with the rookie than if he'd delivered a gem.
"Sometimes you can evaluate somebody through the bad moments better than through the good moments," Maddon said. "I just didn't see any of his normal pitches, although they threw a lot of left-handers up there at him tonight. That's part of the strategy there."
Sonnanstine, like all pitchers, knows he's never going to have his best stuff every time out.
"It's going to happen regardless," Sonnanstine said. "And kind of how you deal with that defines you as a pitcher. I felt like I battled through it pretty well tonight."
While Sonnanstine's performance should register as a positive harbinger of things to come, the Rays' performance in the ninth inning -- though it came up short -- also showed the kind of effort winning clubs display.
Rays hitters had battled all night against a solid contingent of Dodgers hurlers. Derek Lowe started and held the Rays scoreless on one hit through four innings before Delmon Young's RBI single in the fifth and Carl Crawford's RBI triple in the sixth cut the Dodgers' lead to 4-2. Young homered in the seventh to make it a one-run game.
But the game took a bad turn for the Rays when Gary Glover took over to pitch the eighth. Gonzalez hit an RBI triple and James Loney added an RBI single to give the Dodgers a three-run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Takashi Saito took the mound to try to finish off the game for the Dodgers, but the Rays did not go gently.
Ty Wigginton battled Saito for nine pitches leading off the inning before striking out. One out later, Greg Norton singled and Young followed with another single for his third hit of the game to bring Jonny Gomes to the plate with two outs. By this time, the crowd came to life in the hopes the Bunyanesque slugger would tie the game with one swing.
Unfortunately for Gomes and the Rays, Saito struck out Gomes swinging to end the game.
"We went up there with a good game plan," said Maddon, pleased with his team's approach. "We had the tying run at the plate. Jon had some good hacks himself."
Ultimately, Gomes came up short, but the attitude reflected in the ninth-inning effort -- and Sonnanstine's competitiveness -- is the kind of stuff that could fuel future success for the Rays.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.