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Thome's walk-off spoils Rays' late rally

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 06:43 PM
PHILADELPHIA -

The sun came out Saturday, the heat wave broke and the Tampa Bay Rays did so many things right against the Philadelphia Phillies on a picture-perfect day for outdoor baseball.

Jeff Keppinger came off the disabled list and tied a franchise record with five hits. Rookie pitcher Chris Archer pinch-ran and scored a run.

The Rays capped a comeback from three runs down by scoring twice in the ninth inning off old friend and now-Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon with an RBI single by new infielder Brooks Conrad, forcing the Phillies to take their last licks.

That's when Jim Thome sent the capacity crowd dancing into the early evening after hitting a Jake McGee fastball the opposite way into the left-field stands at Citizens Bank Park to give the Phillies a 7-6 walk-off victory.

The reason Thome had a chance to win the game was because the Rays continued to do so many things wrong.

A Ben Zobrist error led to another unearned run as the Rays continue to pad their major-league lead in that department.

James Shields walked the opposing pitcher to start the third inning and allowed a home run to the next batter, Jimmy Rollins. He later allowed a three-run home run to Juan Pierre, who now has 17 in 7,024 career at-bats and hadn't hit a non-solo homer in eight years.

"We normally win those games because we don't make those mistakes," manager Joe Maddon said.

But the Rays did. Again.

"We have been that team," Maddon finally admitted, "but we have to shake it."

The Rays lost their third straight game and are 1-3 on this nine-game road trip. They have a day/night doubleheader today, thanks to Friday's rainout, and took advantage of the rule that allows teams to add another player on such occasions by calling up lefty Alex Torres from Triple-A Durham to help with the pitching.

Still, that won't help much if the Rays continue to play sloppy defense and continue to come up empty with runners on the bases.

They were 5-for-15 with runners in scoring position Saturday and stranded 12 runners. They rapped four hits in the eighth inning but scored just once.

"It's definitely a tough loss. We just got to get better overall," Shields said. "We got to get better at pitching, doing my job. We got to get better everywhere. … In the past we definitely finished it off.

"We did a good job of coming back. We didn't quit. That's a good sign."

Shields needed 109 pitches to get through his five innings. He said he would take one back: the hanging change-up to Pierre, whose three-run homer in the fourth inning capped a two-out rally and gave the Phillies a 5-3 lead.

But the snapshot of this loss occurred during an 11-batter sequence that began in the bottom of the seventh and ended in the top of the eighth.

Pierre reached on an error by Zobrist and hustled to second, easily beating the throw from right fielder Hideki Matsui. He stole third and walked home on a soft single to right by Carlos Ruiz to make it a 6-3 game. Brandon Gomes, who pitched that inning, got Ty Wiggington to bounce into an inning-ending double play.

The Rays came back in the top of the eighth, loading the bases on three straight singles. But all they could show for the rally was an RBI single by Sean Rodriguez.

"Those are the things we normally prevent or don't permit to happen," Maddon said. "And when you're scraping to score some runs, you just can't give them up like we've been giving them up.

"We've been a little bit too porous. We've been porous, not a little bit porous; we've been porous, and we have to stop being porous."

The ninth-inning comeback looked familiar, but all it did was set the stage for Thome, who hit the 13th walk-off homer of his career.

"We battled back and made it a ball game," Keppinger said. "That was an exciting game. There's nothing we can do at the end. They put in the right guy at the right time to pinch-hit."

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