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Defensive lapses no laughing matter

TWINS 6, RAYS 5 (13): Two misplays by Rocco Baldelli help cost Tampa Bay a winnable game.

Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 2, 2003

MINNEAPOLIS - The sunsets. The long walks on the beach. The family gatherings. These are the main reasons Rays manager Lou Piniella came home to Tampa Bay to manage the Devil Rays.

But a pleasant sea breeze isn't all it's cracked up to be when you have to endure debacles like Thursday's.

Inside the dank and dark Metrodome, Piniella watched his Rays blow an early four-run lead, then another lead in the ninth as the Twins swept the three-game series 6-5 in 13 innings.

"I'm going to have to develop a good sense of humor after these games," Piniella said. "I really am."

Piniella smiled when he said it, but deep down his stomach had to be bubbling after Tampa Bay lost its fourth straight in a game seemingly locked down and nailed shut on several occasions.

But baseball is a funny game. One day you're riding high, feeling good, holding the game in your hands.

The next day you're pinned against your locker trying to explain how a couple of flubs cost your team a game. That's how Rays rookie centerfielder Rocco Baldelli, one day after setting what is believed to be a rookie record for hits through April, spent his Thursday.

Baldelli misplayed two fly balls and both proved costly. One was the tying run in the ninth, and the other set up the winning run in the 13th. The 21-year-old, though, couldn't handle either.

"Look, whether your 21 years old, you're 31 or 41 or 11, if you're playing in the big leagues, certain balls have to be caught," Piniella said. "It had nothing to do with age. It has to do with the fact that you're playing in the big leagues, you got to catch the ball. I'm not being hard, I'm being truthful."

With the Rays clinging to a 5-4 lead with one out in the ninth, Minnesota's Corey Koskie hit a liner right at Baldelli, who froze and let the ball bounce in front of him.

"I didn't get a good jump on it," Baldelli said. "I didn't want to dive and have it get by me."

Three batters later, Koskie scored on a sacrifice fly to send the game to extra innings.

"The line drive that Koskie hit has got to be caught," Piniella said. "The centerfielder misread it, didn't see it, whatever, but bottom line is the ball has got to be caught."

With a runner on first and no outs in the 13th, Jacque Jones hit a fly ball that Baldelli lost against the roof. It bounced over the fence for a double before Cristian Guzman ended the game with a double to left.

"I had it off the bat," Baldelli said. "But when I looked back up, I couldn't find it again."

Piniella admitted catching flies in the Metrodome can be difficult, but he maintained Baldelli should've caught both balls.

"I'm not being difficult, I'm not being hard," Piniella said. "I'm just being plain truthful."

The ending ruined a good start for the Rays, who scored four in the first with Marlon Anderson's double being the key hit. Anderson and first baseman Travis Lee made dazzling defensive plays later in the game, and Aubrey Huff hit a ball an estimated 448 feet to dead center for his fifth homer of the season.

"We battled hard, made some great plays out there and we just couldn't get it done," Piniella said.

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