Before Sunday's game, manager Eric Wedge talked about the developmental phase his team is in.

After the game, the Mariners had another experience to draw back on to help move the process along, as they fell 8-7 in walk-off fashion against the Rays on Sunday at Tropicana Field. With the win, Tampa Bay completed a three-game sweep of Seattle.

"I think the thing that's frustrating for [manager Eric Wedge] and for us is that Eric has done such a good job of teaching us how to be winning ball players," catcher Josh Bard said. "We just aren't doing the things we need to do to win. Obviously, we're trying to develop young players, but we need to learn how to win."

Once up 4-0 in the second, Seattle's bullpen blew the lead in the seventh and eventually gave the game up in the ninth, when Johnny Damon took the first pitch of the inning to right field for a solo walk-off shot against reliever Dan Cortes.

"It was pretty crazy," Cortes said. "The very first pitch, he just looked like he was ready to hack. You can't do anything about it. You just tip your cap to him and just move on."

The walk-off homer was the seventh of Damon's 17-year career.

"I was looking for a strike, and the first one I saw I was going to jerk something," Damon said.

It almost didn't get to that point, though. Tampa Bay loaded the bases off Cortes in the eighth, and was just inches away from scoring the go-ahead run.

In the frame, Seattle's reliever let go of an errant curveball that sailed past Bard all the way to the backstop, prompting Matt Joyce to try to score from third. But Bard got to the ball in time to throw out Joyce on a close play at the plate, ending the threat.

"It's just a reaction play," Bard said. "You just try to catch it and get it. Obviously, at Tropicana Field, the backstop is really close to home plate and I got a good bounce. That's nothing that you can really practice."

That was just a part of the drama that unfolded Sunday.

With the Mariners up 5-3 in the seventh, the Rays fought back and drew four walks off of relievers Jamey Wright and Jeff Gray in a four-run inning that was capped off by another big hit from Damon.

He crushed a three-run double off Gray that bounced off the top of the right-field fence. It was originally ruled a grand slam, but was changed after the umpires reviewed the play.

"I thought it might have hit the top, and that's what they ended up saying," Wedge said. "You're never really sure. But it was close enough for me to go out and ask them to take a look at it, and they did. I think they got the call right."

Despite it not being a homer, Damon's big hit still gave the Rays a 7-5 advantage and their first lead of the game.

However, it looked like Seattle might make a comeback of its own when Wily Mo Pena hammered a pitch from James Shields to left-center field for a game-tying two-run homer in the eighth -- his first with the Mariners.

But Seattle's rally never got any further than that.

Lost in the shuffle was an encouraging start from Michael Pineda. The 22-year-old gave up three runs -- two earned -- in six innings, but received a no-decision.

The most encouraging part of the rookie's performance was that he used his changeup more frequently than he has in the past. Bard said Pineda threw about 10 changeups Sunday, which is around seven more than he normally uses.

"We were trying to make it a goal to throw some more changeups just for his development," Bard said. "You're trying to win the game, but where we're at, you obviously want him to throw that pitch. I was proud of the fact that he threw some changeups behind in the count."

Pineda was pulled after throwing 94 pitches in six innings of work to make room for Seattle's bullpen -- a move Wedge was asked about following the game.

"The mid-90s was enough for him today," Wedge said. "A year from now, we'll send him back out for that next inning. That's just where we are, and where he is."

For now, the Mariners will move on to Cleveland to try to rebound from a disappointing three-game sweep.

"We were in position to win two of these games here, and we ended up losing both nights," Wedge said. "We just have to keep plugging."

 

 

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