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08/20/10 1:55 AM ET

Rays fall to A's, lose ground in AL East

Pivotal sixth inning drops Tampa Bay game behind Yankees

OAKLAND -- The inches worked against the Rays on Thursday.

And when those inches were added up, the calculation equaled a 4-3 loss to the Athletics before a crowd of 10,118 at the Oakland Coliseum.

In losing, the Rays saw their winning streak snapped at five, while dropping to 74-47 on the season and falling out of a tie for first place in the American League East with the Yankees.

The sixth inning proved to be the pivotal point of the game after five innings of a pitching duel between Andy Sonnanstine and Trevor Cahill.

Evan Longoria homered off Cahill with one out in the sixth to give the Rays a 3-1 lead, but the sixth would haunt the Rays as the inning in which they should have scored more.

Carlos Pena followed with a single, then Matt Joyce hit a ball to deep center field that Coco Crisp made a leaping catch on at the wall to take away a home run.

"He put some good wood on it and it was just low enough where I could jump and catch it," Crisp said. "Fortunately for me, I was able to come down with it and end up being a part of the reason why we won tonight."

All Joyce could do offer superlatives about Crisp's catch.

"There's not much you can say about it, it's just one of the greatest catches I've ever seen in person," Joyce said. "It totally changed the whole game.

"I knew it was going to be close. I was hoping it would either get over his head or over the fence. I honestly didn't think he would catch it. I knew I hit it well. That's as good as I can hit it. That was unbelievable."

Having been awarded a stay of execution by his center fielder, Cahill followed by helping himself when he fielded Sean Rodriguez's swinging bunt with his bare hand, then whirled and threw to first for the final out of the inning.

When asked about his club having Cahill on the ropes, but not being able to get the knockout blow against him, Rays manager Joe Maddon just smiled.

"Well, I think we did, but Coco just brought it back," Maddon said. "That ball was well struck and could have given us five runs at that point. I thought, overall, we did a pretty nice job against him. We could have had five runs against him after six innings. But their guy made a great play and prevented that from happening."

The fielding gems seemed to get the Athletics' offense on track in the bottom half of the sixth.

Sonnanstine held the Athletics to one run through five innings before getting off to a rocky start in the sixth by walking leadoff batter Kurt Suzuki. Jack Cust then delivered a single to center and the Athletics were in business.

Dan Wheeler took over for Sonnanstine and Maddon insisted afterward that the veteran right-hander would have been the man for the job even if Chad Qualls had been available -- Qualls had to leave the team due to a death in his family.

Wheeler proceeded to walk Kevin Kouzmanoff to load the bases with none out.

Rajai Davis then grounded to Wheeler to score Suzuki and Cliff Pennington followed with a two-run double to give the Athletics a 4-3 lead they would not relinquish.

"It hit the line, it hit the foul line, from my angle it looked like it hit the foul line," said Joyce, who played right field on Thursday. "So I was yelling at it running over there, just hoping it was going to go foul. But I mean, man, when they say it's a game of inches, it's a game of inches."

The A's scored first when Crisp opened the Athletics' first with a single up the middle off Sonnanstine. Daric Barton followed with a double to right to put runners at second and third. One out later, Suzuki grounded out to shortstop to drive home Crisp.

Longoria singled with one out in the fourth and Pena followed with his 24th home run of the season, hitting a 1-1 pitch from Cahill into the right-field stands to give the Rays a 2-1 lead.

The Rays seem to be a measuring stick for the young Athletics.

"We've proven that we can play well against some of the top teams all year," Pennington said. "We're going out there trying to win every series, no matter the opponent."

Meanwhile, the Rays figured tomorrow is another day, which means the good fortune could shift in the other direction.

"Any time you lose or don't come up with the big hit it's frustrating," Joyce said. "But we play 162 games, so we'll come back [Friday] and hopefully those couple of inches will go our way."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.