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Rays continue predictable inconsistency

WHITE SOX 5, RAYS 2: Bats go silent a day after offensive outburst and Paul Wilson makes enough mistakes to lose.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 25, 2002


CHICAGO -- Manager Hal McRae doesn't figure the talk about a strike possibly starting Friday should distract his Rays too much.

They have enough to worry about.

"Inconsistency has been our biggest problem," McRae said before Saturday's game. "Our inconsistent play has been the distraction."

If his words didn't make the point clear enough, his team went out and proved it in a 5-2 loss to the White Sox, a game in which, typically, it did a few things right but more things wrong.

"That's kind of been the story of our season," All-Star outfielder Randy Winn said. "We play well for a game here or a game there but we can't seem to really string it together. Or we play well for eight innings of a ballgame but one will kill us, whether that's the ninth or the first. We've never really put it together for a stretch.

"It's everything. Every part of our game has struggled, whether it's offensively, or defensively, or baserunning, or pitching. It's a different one each night, and there's nothing you can really do except learn from it."

The offense, which looked so strong the previous night in an 8-2 win, was meager at best, managing five hits and striking out eight times, five looking, in 71/3 innings against Dan Wright, who'd given up 20 runs in his past four starts.

After Jared Sandberg's second-inning homer, the Rays didn't do much, and what they did didn't work out. They got one run after loading the bases with none out in the fourth, went down 11 straight during the middle innings and failed again when they had two on in the eighth.

"Wright pitched well. He sort of settled down and he shut us down," McRae said. "When a pitcher's getting called third strikes that's generally a pretty good indication he's hitting his spots and has good stuff. For sure the ball's not in the middle of the plate because hitters don't take pitches that are in the middle of the plate."

And Rays starter Paul Wilson, who'd looked so good in four of his past five starts, made mistakes at crucial times, allowing the five runs on a career high-matching three home runs.

The two-run blast he gave up to Carlos Lee came on a misguided sinker, the pitch Wilson has had his most success with. But it was the other two, a "terrible" slider that Joe Crede hit for a two-run shot ("A stupid, stupid pitch by me," Wilson said) and a poorly located fastball that Frank Thomas knocked out, that upset him.

"Pretty frustrating," Wilson (6-9) said. "It was my responsibility. I'm a better pitcher than some of the decisions that I made tonight, and they cost me. So it stings a little bit, for sure."

The Rays dropped to 43-86, the fewest wins for a team through 129 games since the 1991 Indians, and need a win today to avoid a 16th consecutive non-winning series, the longest such streak since the 1996 Tigers.

What made it worse was that the Rays felt they were playing better, battling to the final pitch in three consecutive losses in Baltimore, then winning big here Friday. It was the 29th time (out of 43 opportunities) the Rays followed a win with a loss.

The Rays got off to a good start, taking the lead when Sandberg homered to right leading off the second, his team-leading 16th of the season but first since Aug. 10.

They got another run after loading the bases with no outs in the fourth, but what they didn't get was more glaring.

Catcher Toby Hall, who went in on a 16-for-32 roll, hit a fly deep enough to center that Aubrey Huff scored, sliding just under Josh Paul's tag.

But that was it. Ben Grieve, who'd shown some signs of offensive life recently, took a third strike, the 49th time he's gone down looking of his 103 strikeouts. With two outs, Chris Gomez managed only a grounder to third.

"Occasionally you break the game open in those situations but most of the time you plan for two runs because you can get two runs without getting a base hit," McRae said.

They should have, because they didn't even get another baserunner until the seventh.


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