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Lou questions effort

Rays drop fifth in a row 4-1 to Boston, and Piniella wonders if team cares enough to turn it around.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 20, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Lou Piniella is obviously frustrated and visibly pained watching his Devil Rays lose almost every night. After Wednesday's 4-1 loss to Boston, their fifth straight and 19th in their past 22 games, he wondered publicly for the first time if his players care enough to turn things around.

"You've got to battle your way out of it. Guys that fight, and have some spunk, they get out of it much quicker than guys that accept it. I can tell you that for damn sure," Piniella said, his voice, and temper, rising.

"I'm starting to feel that possibly we don't have that. How about that? That things are accepted. And that's not the way to do it. It's mind over matter, it's going out there and competing and getting it done.

"Is anybody trying to stay in a slump? Absolutely not. Is anybody trying to make outs? Absolutely not. But at the same time, sooner or later we're going to be in the middle of the summer here, and we're going to be celebrating the Fourth of July, and if we don't kick it in the butt a little bit, we're going to be in the same malaise we are now. And if we are, I hope it's with a bunch of different players, I can tell you that."

The Rays' struggles have been pretty much a collective failure. At 10-28 they have the worst record in the major leagues, are off to the worst start in franchise history and are on a pace for 119 losses.

Put another way: They have one fewer win in their regular season than the Lightning has in its postseason.

"I think everybody needs to look in the mirror a little bit myself," Piniella said. "The mirror doesn't lie. It tells the truth, you know? It's frustrating for everybody. I've got to answer to it every night. The players can go run and hide and go into the training room, they can go into the kitchen, they can go into the shower. I've got to sit over here and explain it every night. I get asked the same questions all the time. And I get tired of making excuses. I get tired of making excuses. I can't go hide. I've got to answer."

Piniella spoke loudly enough Wednesday for the words to carry out of his office and into the clubhouse, but no players were there to hear it. His next step may be to blast the players directly.

Told of Piniella's comments later, Aubrey Huff said players were trying.

"We're busting our (butts), we're working hard, we're just not hitting," Huff said. "It's not a lack of effort. We don't go to the plate and say let's see how many times I can get out tonight. It's just things aren't going our way."

They had a chance Wednesday, with new pitchers Rob Bell and Jason Standridge holding the potent Red Sox to four runs. But the offense struggled against Curt Schilling, scoring fewer than two runs for the 12th time.

Bell, promoted after going 5-0 at Triple-A Durham, gave up four runs in five innings, allowing a homer to Johnny Damon and a two-run blast to Manny Ramirez.

Standridge, reinstated from the disabled list after a 30-day rehab assignment, followed with 31/3 scoreless innings, retiring nine of his first 10 batters.

"They both competed," Piniella said. "I don't think there are any Manny Ramirezes in Durham."

The Rays left five in scoring position, most grievously in the fifth when they had men on second and third with one out and didn't get the ball out of the infield. Rocco Baldelli grounded to third and Huff to first.

"I wish we had a formula, I wish I could say a magic word, I wish we could sprinkle some magic dust around here," Piniella said, "but that's not the case unfortunately."

[Last modified May 20, 2004, 01:01:12]

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