SEATTLE -- Sunday at Safeco Field turned out to be a second guesser's delight.
Seattle manager Eric Wedge had set himself up to get skewered for his decision to pitch to Evan Longoria in the eighth, only to have Joe Maddon rescue him from the hot seat. Everything the Tampa Bay manager tried in the bottom of the eighth backfired in a 9-6 Tampa Bay loss in front of a crowd of 28,947.
In defeat, the Rays (30-29) lost the weekend series to the Mariners 3-1. They remain in a tie with Toronto for third place in the American League East.
Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce cobbled together back-to-back RBI doubles in the eighth to tie the game at 5. Joyce advanced to third on a groundout by Felipe Lopez to bring up Sean Rodriguez with two outs.
Longoria did not start on Sunday due to stiffness in his left side, but he was available for pinch-hitting duties. With the game on the line, Maddon called on his All-Star third baseman to pinch-hit. And despite having an open base, Wedge elected to pitch to Longoria.
Jamey Wright fell behind 2-0, prompting Longoria to think he would be receiving an intentional unintentional walk.
"[Catcher Miguel] Olivo actually pounded his glove and was like, 'Come on, let's go!'" Longoria said. "I was kind of thinking in the back of my head once he got to 2-0 that maybe he was going to try and make another nasty pitch, then try and put me on on the fourth. But when he was like trying to pump the guy up on the mound up, I kind of switched my mindset to, 'Hey, maybe they are trying to pitch to me here -- and they don't want to get to the next guy.'"
Longoria connected on Wright's third offering, sending a line drive into right field to score Joyce and give the Rays a 6-5 lead.
After Longoria's hit, six outs separated the Rays from a series split. Maddon called on J.P. Howell to try and nail down the first three of those outs.
Howell, who has been so dependable throughout his tenure with the Rays, had made just four appearances since being activated from the disabled list -- where he had resided for over a year following left-shoulder surgery. All appeared well when the left-hander got the first out on a dazzling groundout to Longoria at third.
The good fortune did not continue.
Howell walked the next batter, Justin Smoak. Maddon then elected to shift his fielders toward to the right side of the field, in an attempt to stymie left-handed-hitting Jack Cust, who promptly stroked a single to left field. Adam Kennedy followed with an RBI single, and the game was tied at 6.
Next, Maddon called down to the bullpen for Joel Peralta to pitch to Olivo, who had homered in the two previous games -- with one of the homers coming against Peralta in Saturday's 3-2 Rays win.
After Peralta fell behind 2-0, Olivo connected on the third pitch and deposited the baseball into the left-field stands for his seventh home run of the season.
"[Olivo] is a big game player," Wedge said. "He's had a lot of big hits in his career. And he loves to be up there in those situations."
Seattle suddenly held a 9-6 lead, which proved to be more than enough.
"I fall behind in the count and I don't want to load the bases," Peralta said.
"It's real tough, I let the team down, it's on me. You know. If I could have done my job, we have a chance to win, but I didn't. So it's on me."
While Peralta seemed disappointed, Howell looked inconsolable while he sat facing his locker after the game. At one point, Maddon even pulled up a chair and sat next to him.
"It's really frustrating at this point," said Howell, who took his first loss of the season. "The boys played great. It hurts a little bit, you know."
Maddon is used to counting on Howell to come through in high-leverage moments during the game. He has a clean bill of health after his extensive rehab period, but has not been sharp since his return.
"I guess I'm just not as sharp as I normally am," Howell said. "I don't want to make any excuses, but this is like my April, a little bit. And these guys are starting to hit stride. I just need to maybe get out there more times, when possible -- not just because of me -- and I can sharpen it up."
Maddon smiled at the suggestion that all of his moves on Sunday would be second guessed.
"Everything was right, we did everything that was appropriate," Maddon said. "It was just J.P. had a tough day and I felt Joel, even yesterday and today, I felt good in that moment -- and Olivo got him twice. Sometimes things don't work out. It doesn't mean it was the wrong thing to do."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.