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'About as bad as you can get'

A fifth straight loss, 11-2 to Texas, drops Tampa Bay to lowest point in club history with only call-ups of Triple-A stars to give hope.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Are you ready for some football?

The Rays appear to be.

As eager as Tampa Bay's football team is to open its season today, Tampa Bay's baseball players seem eager to end theirs.

The Rays dropped their fifth straight with another uninspired performance Saturday, losing to Texas 11-2 before an announced paid crowd of 12,528, their largest since July 28.

"It's been miserable," outfielder Ben Grieve said. "About as bad as you can get. The worst team, the worst record, getting our you-know-whats kicked. It's almost like it's embarrassing to come to the field every day."

The Rays have been playing like it, staging a nightly clinic in impatient at-bats, careless defense and timid and ineffective pitching.

Halfway through a 10-game homestand, the Rays have been outscored 44-10, batted .229 and posted an 8.40 ERA.

"We've had a bad stretch of games," manager Hal McRae said. "Somehow we've got to get this turned around. We're not pitching well and we're not hitting. That's a deadly combination."

The Rays dropped to 47-94, which put them 47 games below .500 for the first time in franchise history.

It also put them on pace -- though the way they're playing lately, it may be a challenge to maintain even that sorry pace -- to finish the season at 54-108, which would make them the eighth team in American League history, and fourth in more than 60 years, to lose that many.

In addition to becoming the first team since the 1978-79 Blue Jays to lose 100 games in back-to-back seasons, they have this to look forward to:

Outfielder Rocco Baldelli and pitcher Dewon Brazelton are expected to be called up as soon as Triple-A Durham completes play in the Governors' Cup championship, which could be as soon as Thursday and no later than Saturday.

That means at the latest, the prized prospects should be in uniform when the Rays open a homestand against the Yankees on Sept. 17.

Baldelli is likely to play semi-regularly in center and rightfield. Brazelton probably will get two or three starts, perhaps in place of Jorge Sosa.

"I'd like to see them play, but I know not to get excited about what I see," McRae said. "What I'm looking for is potential, rather than if they can play here next year. I don't think that will be a concern of mine. My opinion will be more guarded this time around."

Maybe they can do something to spark the Rays. Unlike last year, when the Rays salvaged a miserable season with a strong finish because of solid performances from several young players, this group is going the other way.

"Last year we got guys who came up from the minor leagues with a lot of energy and they played well and that was the difference in the club," McRae said.

"This year it hasn't been the same infusion; the players haven't had the same impact. ... It was like we caught lightning in a bottle with those guys. We were impressed with everybody that came up."

Last September, there weren't nearly as many nights like Saturday, when the only highlight was a seventh-inning home run by Aubrey Huff, who extended his hitting streak to 14 games, including homers in three straight. Huff, who has a team-high 21 homers, has driven in or scored six of the 10 Tampa Bay runs on the homestand.

"The only guy swinging the bat really well is Huff, and he can't do it by himself," McRae said.

The Rangers don't have any problem swinging the bat. With ex-Ray Herbert Perry's third-inning blast, the Rangers tied a major-league record by homering in their 25th consecutive game, joining the 1941 Yankees, 1994 Tigers and 1998 Braves.

Perry, whom the Rays lost on waivers in April 2000 to make room to activate Vinny Castilla, homered again in the seventh, giving him 21 on the season.

McRae's primary concern is the pitching staff, which has allowed 60 hits and 22 walks in the five games while throwing 785 pitches, an average of 157.

"The bases on balls, the number of pitches the batters see, it's been devastating of late," McRae said. "We're throwing too many pitches."

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