ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Just when it looked like another Rays lead would slip away in a loss, Evan Longoria
hit a two-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, giving Tampa Bay an 8-7 victory at Tropicana Field, bringing the Rays back to .500 for the first time in two months.
San Diego (16-20) looked to have a win wrapped up, with closer Huston Street an out away from closing out a wild game that saw the Padres rally from a 6-2 deficit on Jesus Guzman's pinch-hit grand slam and a bases-loaded walk in the seventh.
The Rays (18-18) have won four in a row, matching their season high, with Longoria setting a team record with his fifth career walk-off home run. Ben Zobrist had walked from a full count to keep the inning alive and setting the stage for Longoria's ninth home run of the year.
The Padres trailed 6-2 and had seen Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson
retire 16 batters in a row until he ran into trouble in the seventh. Carlos Quentin walked and Mark Kotsay singled, and with two outs, the Padres got an infield single from Alexi Amarista to load the bases.
In came pinch-hitter Guzman, who had been 2-for-13 in that role this season, and he crushed a full-count grand slam just inside the left-field foul pole to tie the game at 6-6. It was San Diego's first grand slam since September, and the team's first pinch-hit grand slam since August 2006.
That ended Hellickson's night, but reliever Jamey Wright struggled with his control, with Padres reaching bases on an error, hit by pitch and walk. A bases-loaded walk to Quentin gave the Padres a 7-6 lead.
San Diego got stellar pitching from its bullpen up until Street -- Tyson Ross threw four innings, then Brad Brach, Joe Thatcher and Luke Gregerson took it to the ninth inning.
San Diego led 2-0 after Chase Headley's two-run homer in the first off Hellickson.
Padres rookie Burch Smith pitched a 1-2-3 first, but the promising part of the 23-year-old's debut ended there.
The first seven Rays reached base in the second, with James Loney tying the score on a two-run homer, his second home run of the year, after Longoria led off with a walk. Luke Scott walked, then Smith gave up consecutive singles to Sam Fuld, Jose Lobaton and Yunel Escobar, whose bases-loaded hit gave the Rays a 4-2 lead.
Matt Joyce's two-run double made it a 6-2 Rays and ended Smith's debut after just three outs, giving the former Oklahoma Sooners pitcher a dubious career ERA of 54.00. The six-run outburst was one run short of the Rays' best inning of the season, trumped only by a seven-run third against Toronto on May 6.
Staked to a 6-2 lead, Hellickson retired 16 batters in a row, after giving up three hits in the first inning. The Rays had lost in Hellickson's last three starts and were 2-5 in his starts before Saturday.
Tampa Bay entered with a three-game winning streak.
NOTES: Despite the difficult debut, Smith has pitched well this season. He'd allowed just four earned runs in six starts at Class AA San Antonio for a 1.15 ERA. He gave up as many earned runs in the second inning on Saturday. ... Loney entered second in the American League with a .376 batting average, but as recently as Thursday led the league, one of only four Rays to do so this late in the season, following Joyce and former Rays Jason Bartlett and B.J. Upton. ... Joyce's two-run double was a welcome show of opportunistic hitting. Joyce entered the game hitting just .182 (4-for-22) with runners in scoring position. ... Fuld started for the second game in a row, and his single continued a recent upswing. After opening the year 2 for 26 at the plate, he entered the game with a .280 average in the last 12 games.
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