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Rays' malaise worsens with defeat

JAYS 5, RAYS 4: Tampa Bay avoids getting blown out by the big inning, but its skid hits 1-6 after leaving 13 on base.

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 14, 2002

[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Brent Abernathy sits in the dugout and ponders a tough night.
ST. PETERSBURG -- The coach stopped by the player's locker on his way out the clubhouse door.

Experience teaches the value of such a gesture.

And, sure enough, by the time first-base coach Lee May departed after the Rays' 5-4 loss to Toronto before 11,143 Saturday at Tropicana Field, Brent Abernathy was smiling.

It was another exceptionally rough night for the Rays, who have lost three straight and six of their past seven.

"I think it's taken a toll on us," Abernathy said. "What have we got? One hundred fifty-two left? ... We better get over it and come back out with our game faces."

The Rays, who conclude their series with the Blue Jays today before heading to Detroit for three games, avoided the big inning that prevented wins in the two previous games.

But missed opportunities at the plate -- 13 runners left on base -- a season-high four errors and six walks by starter Tanyon Sturtze proved too much to overcome.

Toronto took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on another home run by Carlos Delgado, his 14th against Tampa Bay.

Trailing 5-1 entering the sixth inning, the Rays made it close by scoring. Third baseman Bobby Smith, who was 2-for-5 with two RBIs, grounded out with a runner on third to end the game.

"Even though we made errors and we allowed them to score runs, we had a chance to win the game," manager Hal McRae said. "That's where we wanted to be. ... A runner on third with less than two outs in the ninth. We had a chance to draw even in the ninth. We did have a chance to win the game."

In his third start of the season, Sturtze lasted five innings. He allowed three earned runs on five hits while striking out three and walking six.

"Nothing was wrong with my stuff. Nothing was wrong with my arm," Sturtze said. "I walked six guys. That's it. Bottom line. ... You walk six guys, you don't deserve anything. You shouldn't even be pitching here if you walk six guys."

A pair of errors -- one by Abernathy in the second and another by shortstop Chris Gomez in the third -- led to three Toronto runs in the second and third innings.

"When you walk as many guys as I did, you can't expect guys to make plays behind you," said Sturtze, who pitched a scoreless fourth and fifth but has allowed 14 earned runs and 12 walks in three starts this season. "They're all sitting out there bored. There's no point worrying about the errors. They're out there bored to death because you're walking people. You can't expect them to be in the game."

Rookie Steve Kent and Doug Creek each pitched two innings of scoreless relief, preventing the Blue Jays from pulling away in the last half of the game.

"We pitched much better, which is the key to our success," McRae said. "Even though Sturtze gave up the five, he put up zeros after that and everybody that followed him put up zeros. We continued to build momentum. We were a hit away from winning the game or breaking the game open."

The Rays stranded four runners during the third, fourth and fifth innings. Abernathy scored on a single by Gomez in the sixth to make it 5-2.

Tampa Bay loaded the bases with nobody out in the seventh thanks to a single, error and walk. Smith delivered a two-out single up the middle off reliever Dan Plesac that scored Steve Cox and Greg Vaughn to make it 5-4.

Gomez reached on a fielder's choice before Jason Tyner flew out to center to end the inning with the bases loaded. Catcher Toby Hall led off the ninth with a double to left, but reliever Kelvim Escobar retired three straight to end the game for his second save this season.

"I want to have a chance to win in these games," McRae said. "We were a hit away from winning the game although we made mistakes. To become a good club, those are the things we have to do. I just want a chance each night to win.

"You're not satisfied with losing but it's sort of gratifying to know that we didn't play our best defensively. Our pitcher gave up some runs early. But we hung in there and had a chance to win."

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