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ATL@TB: Rodriguez robs Ross with a diving stop

ST. PETERSBURG -- Tim Hudson had allowed just two hits when Carlos Pena stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth.

On his shoulders rested the Rays' hopes for another comeback.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Matt Joyce had faced a similar situation and he answered the challenge by depositing the baseball on the other side of the center-field wall for a game-changing grand slam.

Could Pena find the same magic? After all, he'd launched the first grand slam of the season in the first inning of the first game.

Pena connected on an 0-1 pitch and sent a drive screaming toward deep center field. Michael Bourn raced after the ball while the raucous crowd of 24,759 at Tropicana Field responded to what they were seeing.

Could it really happen two days in a row?

Atlanta's center fielder then camped underneath the ball and hauled in the drive for the third out, seemingly sucking the energy out of the Sunday afternoon crowd.

Pena's tease proved to be the closest the Rays would get to doing anything against the Braves right-hander, who held the Rays scoreless through 7 2/3 innings en route to claiming his third win of the season in a 2-0 victory over the Rays.

Rays manager Joe Maddon knows Hudson from his days as the Angels' bench coach when Hudson pitched for the A's.

"I saw that a lot," Maddon said. "When he's got it going on down in the zone and then he elevates when he wants to, good breaking ball, just a real ability to pitch. You could see him plotting every hitter. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and he was able to do it.

"He was really never in much trouble. He had great stuff. The velocity held all the way through with the great movement, and then he spotted the split and the curveball when he wanted to. But I saw that with him, [Barry] Zito and [Mark] Mulder way too often out there."

B.J. Upton noted that in addition to having good stuff, Hudson threw a wrinkle into his game plan that added to his effectiveness.

"He threw a variation of fastballs early in the game, probably until the sixth or seventh inning. Then, all of a sudden, he started to mix his curveball in, which nobody had really seen," Upton said. "And he kept the ball down the whole game. He knows what he's doing."

The Braves took two of the three games to claim the weekend Interleague series, dropping the Rays to 25-17 in the process and helping to deal them their first shutout of the season.

Upton's infield single with two out in the eighth chased Hudson, who had thrown 99 pitches, in favor of left-hander Jonny Venters to pitch to Joyce. That's when things got interesting.

Venters hit Joyce in the shoulder before repeating himself by hitting Pena to load the bases for Luke Scott. Facing an 0-2 count, Scott hit a sharp grounder that may have gotten through the infield. Nobody will ever know, since the ball struck Pena on his back right ankle -- giving Scott a base hit while also ending the inning on an interference call.

"I haven't seen the video, but it was just a helpless feeling because I couldn't go anywhere," Pena said. "I think I was in the air when the ball was hit. It was a rocket. I'd say just bad luck.

"It's crazy when you stop and think about it. It's like, if I played it less aggressively -- the wrong way, lackadaisical -- maybe I'm able to stop and back off of that and then we'd score two runs. I think there we got penalized for running the bases right."

While Hudson pitched well, so did Rays starter David Price, who allowed a solo home run to David Ross in the third and an unearned run in the sixth when Jason Heyward drove home Freddie Freeman after Freeman had advanced to second on a passed ball by Rays catcher Jose Molina.

"If I could ask for one pitch back, it would be the home run that Ross hit," Price said. "We threw the ball, we had a chance to win, we just didn't do it [today]."

Hudson knew he had to rise to the challenge against Price.

"He's been great all year, his whole career. You knew that runs were going to be tough to come by," Hudson said. "Ross was able to barrel one on him and give us a nice lead. Any lead against a front-line starter is always nice to have.

"Honestly, I didn't think we were going to get any more after that. But we were able to scratch another run across and a two-run lead felt like an eight-run lead. The baseball gods were on our side."

The Rays are dealing with a lot these days, from having their roster depleted by injuries to losing when possible go-ahead runs are erased by interference. But at least they are keeping a sense of humor.

"There's a lot of adversity coming against us as individuals, as a group," Scott said. "I don't understand why we joke around. It's like, 'Let's find the witch doctor and behead him, throw him into the Bay.' Whatever we need. What do you do? Tomorrow's another day."

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