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Another comeback is just out of reach

O'S 4, RAYS 3: A popup Marlon Anderson can't quite get to sets up the winning run.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 11, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Down three runs to the Orioles, the Devil Rays caught up again Thursday afternoon. But they couldn't catch a popup in the eighth inning and ended up losing 4-3.

With a win, the Rays would have been at the .500 mark 10 or more games into a season for the first time in four years. Instead, they hit the road, and they head to the brutal Northeast cold knowing they let one slip away.

Or, more precisely, let one drop into short rightfield just out of second baseman Marlon Anderson's reach leading to the winning run.

"That ball should have been caught," manager Lou Piniella said. "Very catchable."

Instead, it was a bloop single by Brook Fordyce. And after a bunt by Jerry Hairston, a move-the-runner groundout by Gary Matthews and a hard single up the middle by David Segui that skidded just by Jesus Colome's right foot, it was the game's decisive run.

Still the Rays are 4-6, with an offense that has been unexpectedly productive and a bullpen that has saved the struggling starters, and in better shape than many expected.

"We definitely could have won a couple more games," Anderson said, "but I think if you told us after 10 games we'd be 4-6 we'd have all taken that."

They left afterward for a 10-game, 11-day road trip to New York, Boston and Baltimore that would be treacherous enough even if weren't going to be cold and raw, with the chance for some gametime temperatures below 40 degrees.

"Let's hope we don't have Tampa Bay Bucs syndrome," Piniella said.

Weather wasn't a factor in Thursday's matinee, before a paid crowd of 9,403, and Anderson wouldn't say whether the tricky Tropicana Field roof was.

He seemed to have the ball tracked as he went back, with new rightfielder Aubrey Huff hanging back to give him room, but he didn't get his glove in the right place to catch the ball.

"I should have made the play, I know that," Anderson said. "It was not a basic routine play, I ran a long ways for it. It should have been caught but it wasn't. But it's what you do afterward. ...

"A lot of things came into play, but it's one of those plays: It should have been made, should have been caught, should have been three outs."

The Rays, who have come from at least two runs down in each of their four wins, nearly tied it again in the ninth against closer Jorge Julio.

After Damion Easley popped out and Anderson struck out, swinging at a 98 mph fastball that was over his head, Ben Grieve delivered a pinch-hit single and pinch-runner Damian Rolls got to third after a stolen base and an errant throw, but Javier Valentin struck out.

The Rays trailed because Steve Parris, who had an otherwise solid 98-pitch outing (three hits over seven innings), walked the first two batters in the fourth, then gave up a three-run home run to Jay Gibbons.

"Nine bad pitches," Parris said.

The Rays scratched back with a run in the fourth and two in the fifth thanks to a Rey Ordonez double, another ground ball single by Rocco Baldelli (who extended his hitting streak to 10 games) and two errant throws by Baltimore pitcher Sidney Ponson, one to first on a pickoff, then a wild pitch.

"We've played hard, and that's the important thing," Piniella said. "You play well enough the record takes care of itself. We've got a long ways to go before we're where we want to get."

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