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ST. PETERSBURG - The way Dodgers starter Derek Lowe's pitches were moving in his first two innings Friday, it didn't bode well for the Devil Rays' bats.
Ask first baseman Carlos Pena, who said one of Lowe's fastballs looked like it was going to go behind him during his first at-bat but fell right into catcher Russell Martin's mitt for a called strike.
"It was physics defined," Pena said.
But the Rays have overcome their share of strong pitchers, and they scraped out three runs against Lowe on five hits and trailed by one after seven innings. Then a tough eighth inning buried any hope of a comeback in a 6-3 loss at Tropicana Field.
With the distraction of the Elijah Dukes saga in the team's rearview mirror for now, manager Joe Maddon saw the Dodgers, who came in 10 games over .500, as an ideal test.
Without his best stuff, Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine went seven innings for the third time in his fourth major-league start despite allowing four runs on 10 hits. He left trailing by one after Delmon Young's seventh-inning solo homer -- one of three hits for Young -- made it 4-3 and chased Lowe.
"It definitely wasn't my best stuff," Sonnanstine said. "I thought my slider was a bit flat. The changeup was inconsistent, but I did my best to keep us in the game."
But reliever Gary Glover couldn't keep the score that close, allowing two runs on back-to-back triples and a run-scoring single.
Young lost Jeff Kent's hit to centerfield in the lights, allowing Kent a triple. Tampa native Luis Gonzalez, who hit a solo homer to lead off the second, tripled down the rightfield line to drive in Kent, and James Loney's single scored Gonzalez.
Still, the Rays were by no means done entering the ninth -- given their comeback victories. They tested Dodgers closer Takaski Saito through a 25-pitch inning, bringing the tying run to the plate after back-to-back singles with two outs by Greg Norton and Young. But Jonny Gomes struck out swinging to end the game.
"It would have been nicer if the gap was a little bit tighter, no question," Maddon said. "We had it. We had the tying run at the plate. We have guys who can hit home runs. When you have the proper people on the bases, you're definitely within striking distance. I though we rallied well in the ninth. That's what I'm looking for, the nonquit kind of an attitude."
The club's past three games -- all losses -- have been decided by three runs or fewer. The bullpen has allowed nine runs in 8 2/3 innings in those three games.
Lowe, who won for the fourth time in five starts, set the tone early, sending the Rays down in order in the first on three consecutive groundouts. He retired the first seven overall before Gomes doubled to center for the Rays' first hit.
"He kept his ball low, low out of the zone where you couldn't really do too much but hit a ground ball," leftfielder Carl Crawford said. "That's what he's known for."
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at email@example.com.