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Chicago walks away with gift

WHITE SOX 6, RAYS 5: The bullpen is presented with a three-run lead in the eighth and gives it away.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 26, 2004

CHICAGO - The signs of frustration were everywhere.

A rare show of emotion on the mound from Lance Carter.

Manager Lou Piniella's angry comments again bouncing off the clubhouse walls.

Long faces and downcast eyes as the Devil Rays headed off to Boston where the red-hot Red Sox await.

A game that seemed to be theirs Sunday had gotten away, the White Sox winning 6-5 and in most cruel fashion, Carter walking in the winning run on a full-count pitch with two outs in the ninth.

It was the kind of loss that left the Rays wondering how it could have happened.

And, it turns out, the White Sox too. "This is the kind of game you win, but you go home feeling as though you lost," Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said.

It was an afternoon that had seemed so encouraging for the Rays as they found out that Jeremi Gonzalez could still pitch well, that Aubrey Huff and Toby Hall could hit home runs, that their defense could indeed make spectacular plays that made a difference, but it was all wiped away.

"It's one of things where you look back and we're in the game for what, 81/3 innings, 82/3 innings?" Eduardo Perez said. "That's why you've got to play nine."

The game ended with a 3-and-2 pitch to Juan Uribe that was low, Carter throwing his arms to the ground in frustration, Piniella turning away in disgust, Kelly Dransfeldt jogging home with the winning run in a walkoff walk, the second time in three days the Sox won on the final play.

But the Rays thought the game was actually lost a few minutes earlier, when they were one strike away from what would have been an important victory and, actually, reliever Trever Miller didn't even need to throw a strike.

The Sox had cut the lead to 5-4 and had the tying run on second, but, after a series of managerial moves, they were down to Dransfeldt, a 29-year-old who had 14 hits in his major-league career, and who hadn't driven in a run in the big leagues since September 2000.

"A young kid that would probably swing at anything," Piniella said.

Miller got ahead 0-and-2. All he had to do was throw the ball anywhere but down the middle of the plate. The fastball was supposed to be away but wasn't. Dransfeldt lined it over first base, scoring pinch-runner Ross Gload with the tying run - on a close play at the plate - and setting up the sequence that led to the Sox victory.

"A two-strike pitch, no balls, (tying) run on second base and you let a guy hit an (0-and-2) pitch off you like that," Piniella said. "It's not even baseball. Hopefully, he learned from it."

Miller said he was plenty sorry.

"I got 0-2, and it was just a stupid pitch," Miller said. "Not only was it a dumb pitch, I didn't hit the spot I was going for. I tried to go out of the zone, and I throw it right down the middle.

"Everybody in this room should want to take me out and beat the tar out of me. That's okay. I probably deserve it."

Gload, a former USF star, got a foot across the plate just before Hall applied the tag. Jose Cruz's strong one-bounce throw had been just to the first-base side of home, but the time it took Hall to get it and reach back across the plate made the difference.

"It was a tough ball," Cruz said. "First of all, the ball was hit right over the first baseman's head. How many times do you see a guy in rightfield make a play on a ball hit there? Then there was some kind of backspin or some kind of funny spin, and it checked right up when it hit the grass.

"I wasn't able to field it cleanly. ... I wanted to make sure I caught it and threw accurately. I threw pretty accurate.

"It was close."

At that point the score was tied. But the Rays were clearly behind. They'd been in trouble from the start of the ninth, when the lead they had built on a run-scoring single by Rocco Baldelli, homers by Huff and Hall, and a two-run triple by Julio Lugo, who leads the team with 13 RBIs, was down to 5-3.

Danys Baez, pitching for the third straight day, didn't have it, allowing a leadoff single to Frank Thomas and walking Carlos Lee. Hall and Perez provided temporary relief with a neat pickoff play that nabbed Lee, one of a half-dozen sparkling Tampa Bay defensive plays, but Baez allowed a single to Paul Konerko, moving Thomas to third.

Travis Harper came in and got a ground ball to short, but the Rays could get only one out, Thomas scoring and Gload going to second.

Miller gave up the single to Dransfeldt that tied it, and it got worse from there.

He intentionally walked Miguel Olivo, then very much unintentionally walked left-handed hitter Willie Harris, who hadn't gotten on base in 11 previous plate appearances against lefties, getting ahead 0-and-2 and throwing four straight balls.

"There's nobody to blame but me," Miller said.

"I am the goat."

Next was Carter vs. Uribe, and you know how it ended.

"The last thing you think you're going to do is walk somebody," Carter said. "I'd rather they hit it eight miles than friggin' walk the guy."

It was that kind of day.

[Last modified April 26, 2004, 01:10:13]

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