ST. PETERSBURG -- Saturday night saw the Rays' offense fizzle yet again, but thanks to Cesar Ramos all was not lost in the 2-1 loss to the Mariners at Tropicana Field with 18,800 watching.
The loss handed the Rays their first of the year against the Mariners and snapped a nine-game winning streak against the Mariners, their second-longest winning streak ever against an opponent and longest ever against the Mariners.
Heading into Sunday's rubber match of the three-game series, the Rays are now 49-46 on the season.
After playing 14 innings Friday night, the last thing the Rays needed Saturday night was a short outing by their starting pitcher. The residual effect of the extra-inning affair came in the scarcity of relievers available for duty as six different relievers absorbed 6 1/3 innings.
To combat the deficit, left-hander Cesar Ramos got recalled from Triple-A Durham, and that proved to be a good thing because starter Alex Cobb lasted just two innings after suffering a lower-right leg contusion after getting hit by a drive off the bat of Ichiro Suzuki.
"When I was on the ground all I thought about was going back out there and throwing some innings up there," Cobb said.
Ramos took over for Cobb with the Rays trailing 2-0 and proceeded to cobble together four scoreless innings in dominating fashion, holding the Mariners to two hits while striking out six.
"Unbelievable," said Joel Peralta of Ramos' effort. "We needed somebody to pick us up after Cobb, and the way he did it was amazing."
Ramos got a call informing him that he would be flying to Tampa at 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
"We brought Cesar up specifically for an event like today," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He was great. That was as good as I've ever seen him pitch. ... He had a really good poise about himself tonight, too. ... Cesar permitted us to have a chance to win that game tonight."
Ramos entered the game understanding the precarious situation in which the Rays' staff found itself.
"That's why I was like, go out there and let her go," Ramos said. "See how long you can go, and luckily I was able to cover four innings and keep us in the ballgame."
Burke Badenhop pitched a scoreless seventh to keep the game within reach for the offense, which Mariners starter Jason Vargas had stymied through six innings before showing life in the seventh.
Desmond Jennings singled to open the seventh, then Jose Lobaton dropped a Texas Leaguer into right field that Jennings immediately recognized as a hit. The Rays speedster made the turn around second and headed into third standing up. Ichiro Suzuki's wild throw to third allowed Jennings to score on the play to cut the lead to 2-1.
Suzuki's error also allowed Lobaton to reach second representing the tying run. Sean Rodriguez sacrificed him to third, but that's where Lobaton remained. B.J. Upton popped out and Carlos Pena struck out to end the inning.
"We've got a runner at second base, one run in, nobody out," Maddon said. "Rodriguez really good bunt, excellent bunt, moves up the runner. That's a moment where you've really got to tie it up and move it on from there. ... We just can't let those opportunities slip away. That's the difference of being five games over and three games over."
Mariners manager Eric Wedge credited Vargas for being most responsible for Saturday night's win since the state of the Mariners' pitching mirrored the Rays' after Friday night's marathon.
"It starts with Jason Vargas," Wedge said. "Everybody knew what our situation was. To know that as a starting pitcher and have the heartbeat that he did and get us deep in the ballgame like that, it starts with him. He didn't have the command that he normally does, but he didn't give in to it either in a tight ballgame like that."
The Rays' bullpen has posted a 1.96 ERA during the homestand with 46 strikeouts against only nine walks in nine games. And over the past three games, the Rays bullpen has not allowed a run in 16 1/3 innings.
Tough luck for Ramos came in the fact that he was optioned back to Durham after the game.
"If Cesar was not here tonight, it would have really been awful to try and piece that together tonight," Maddon said. "As it went along, it would have been nearly impossible. We could have done it, but we would have been in really bad shape for tomorrow. ... He gave us a solid chance to win tonight's game and then he saved everybody else -- outstanding job."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.