LOS ANGELES -- Tampa Bay appeared to have Friday night's game salted away.
David Price had pitched brilliantly, and the offense and defense were in harmony. The bullpen simply needed to take care of two innings.
That didn't happen, even though the relief troops were handed a 6-1 lead to protect. As a result, the Rays were handed a 7-6 loss in their first-ever appearance at Dodger Stadium.
"It's just a situation where almost all the time your bullpen is going to lock that down," Rays manager Joe Maddon sad. "They just didn't do that tonight. It was a tough, hard-fought game. We played well to that point. We didn't play badly. We just didn't close it out pitching-wise."
Tampa Bay (66-48) remained two games behind the American League East-leading Red Sox, who dropped a 9-6 decision to the Royals on Friday night.
Fernando Rodney started the ninth for the Rays and Skip Schumaker singled to start the inning. One out later, Mark Ellis tripled to left to drive home Schumaker. Nick Punto followed with an RBI double to score Ellis, then Adrian Gonzalez followed suit with a double that drove home Punto to tie the score at 6.
After Yasiel Puig was intentionally walked, Rodney appeared to be gifted an inning-ending lifesaver when Jerry Hairston hit one back up the box. Rodney fielded the ball, turned to throw to second, then fired it well wide of second on the tailor-made double-play opportunity. As the ball sailed into center field, Gonzalez raced home with the winning run.
"We knew that we had a chance if we just kept battling," Gonzalez said. "Rodney is a great closer but we just stayed with our approach and we got those balls to fall."
Rodney remained composed after the game, but his face showed his disappointment.
"I tried to get us out of the inning. I feel bad because Price threw a very good ballgame," Rodney said. "Tomorrow's another day. ... There's a lot of games left."
Price stood up for the bullpen, even though they lost the "W" that should have been his.
"I had and still have the utmost confidence in our relievers," Price said. "That's a tough team, they don't quit. They keep putting at-bats together whether they're down five or up 10. They continue to have good at-bats and that's what they did tonight."
Price dominated, holding the Dodgers to one run on seven hits in seven innings. He continued his uncanny mastery of the strike zone, throwing strikes on 63 of the 99 pitches he threw. However, he did surrender a walk to Hairston in seventh, thereby terminating a streak of 35 1/3 innings without issuing a walk -- a club record.
The Dodgers finally broke Price's spell in the seventh via Schumaker's RBI double. But that came only after Evan Longoria threw wild on what appeared to be a double-play ball.
Jake McGee started the eighth and walked Mark Ellis to start the inning. He recovered to strike out Punto and he retired Gonzalez on a groundout.
Josh Lueke then entered the game to face Puig, and the Dodgers rookie sensation came through with an RBI double to right.
"Because we had a big lead, it was a five-run lead," said Maddon when asked why he pitched to Puig. "We brought Lueke in specifically [to face Puig]. Lueke's done a nice job against righties this year. So we definitely pitched to him there."
Lueke then walked Hairston, which prompted Maddon to call on Joel Peralta, who surrendered an RBI single to Uribe that cut the lead to 6-3 and set the stage for the Rays' undoing in the ninth.
The late-inning events seemed more dramatic given how everything went right for the Rays earlier in the game when Price received strong support from his offense and defense.
When Uribe doubled to right with two outs in the fourth, Hairston was thrown out at home on a sequence that saw Ben Zobrist make an accurate throw to second baseman Ryan Roberts who threw a strike to catcher Jose Molina for the out.
Wil Myers added a splendid diving grab of Schumaker's shallow fly ball to center for the first out of the fifth.
Tampa Bay's offense scored three in the second when Yunel Escobar singled home the first run and James Loney singled home two more off Dodgers starter Chris Capuano.
The Rays padded their lead in the fifth when Zobrist singled home a run and Escobar singled home two more to make it 6-0.
Unfortunately for the Rays, the bullpen is suddenly in a funk, which began Wednesday night when the group allowed eight runs while trying to cover 7 1/3 innings against the D-Backs. Six runs scored on the group's two-inning watch Friday night.
"It's two games that we've struggled a bit, because up to this point we've been pretty darn good," Maddon said. "I don't have any specific reasons. I don't think any of them are not rested, or overworked. It's just been two tough games."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.