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Loss has Rays at loss for words

A'S 4, RAYS 2: Tight game turns on iffy call that snuffs a rally, leaving club mostly silent.

MARC TOPKIN
Published August 31, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif. - There wasn't much to say, or at least not much good to say, after the Devil Rays lost 4-2 to the A's Saturday night.

Manager Lou Piniella imposed his fourth Lou-out of the season, declining to talk to the media. The players didn't have much to offer, frustrated by another close loss that turned on another close call that went against them.

Down 2-0 against a surprisingly masterful Ted Lilly, the Rays closed to 2-1 in the seventh. When the A's made it 3-1, the Rays rallied again in the eighth.

Marlon Anderson hit a leadoff pinch-hit home run off reliever Chad Bradford to make it 3-2, and they looked like they would get more until Damian Rolls was caught stealing at second on a close play Piniella protested. He walked slowly off the field in disgust after getting nowhere with umpire Joe Brinkman.

"Maybe he couldn't see, but I was tagged on the (butt) and my left foot was on the bag," Rolls said. "It's a big momentum shift, a huge momentum shift. That right there can make or break a ballgame."

For the Rays, it broke it. And when Lance Carter gave up a home run to Scott Hatteberg to start the Oakland eighth, a prelude to the postgame fireworks show that attracted 45,150 to Network Associates Coliseum, it was irreparable.

For their efforts, the all the Rays got was an "x."

That's the letter that appears next to a team's name in the standings when it is officially eliminated from the division race, the universal symbol for goodbye. And by the end of the night, not that it wasn't inevitable, they were gone, 29 games out of first with 28 to play.

"I didn't know there was still time," Al Martin said. "Are you sure we can't get into a one-game playoff or anything? I don't think anyone was holding their breath, but now that it's final we'd better focus on 70 wins and not losing 100 games. Real goals."

With how they've played lately, losing eight of 10, and whom they still have to play, 21 of their remaining 28 against the A's, Mariners, Yankees and Red Sox, those aren't going to be easy. The Rays have to finish 17-11 to win a franchise-record 70 and 10-18 to avoid a third straight 100-loss season.

Lilly had been the fourth man on the A's starting staff behind the big three of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and now-injured Mark Mulder, but the Rays treated him like an ace.

Three up and three down they went, managing two baserunners through the first six innings and one clean hit, Travis Lee's run-scoring single, in his 62/3 innings.

The A's hit the ball hard from the beginning off Rays starter Rob Bell, line drives sizzling through the air, fly balls carrying to the walls, but managed three runs in his 62/3 innings.

Bell, signed in spring training after being released by the Rangers, ended up with another decent outing, his fifth straight quality start (six or more innings, three or fewer runs). Saturday's loss was his first since June 25, and he is 3-1 with seven no-decisions and a 4.60 ERA in his past 11 games (10 starts).

"I feel like I've turned a big corner," Bell said. "I was just trying to repeat what I've done in my recent starts."

The loss extended the first-place A's winning streak to a season-high eight games and continued the Rays misery in Oakland; they have lost 12 of their past 13 here and 23 of 29 overall.

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