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Rays ready to start another streak

TWINS 4, RAYS 2: Poor clutch play ends five-game run, but a possible series win motivates Tampa Bay.

MARC TOPKIN
Published May 27, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - The rules of life require that all good things must come to an end. Now the Devil Rays have to make sure that the end of their five-game winning streak doesn't mean the end of their run of improved play.

The 4-2 loss to Minnesota Wednesday night was disappointing, especially because it was a loss they felt could have been prevented. But how the Rays come out and play in this afternoon's series finale, especially with the Yankees coming to town for the weekend, will determine how damaging it was.

"It's a big game. Tomorrow's a big game for us," Robert Fick said. "We've been playing pretty good; even the loss tonight was a tough one. Hopefully we come out and play hard and win the series. Anytime you win a series, it's something to build off of. It would be two in a row for us, and Lord knows we haven't done that."

The Rays didn't lose Wednesday so much because of what they did wrong but because of what they didn't do right.

The hitters didn't deliver in two key early situations: men on first and third with one out in the second when they were down 1-0, and a runner on third with no outs in the fourth after they took a 2-1 lead.

And starter Rob Bell didn't protect the lead once the Rays got it, walking the Nos. 9 and 1 hitters to start the fifth, then giving up a two-run double to Jacque Jones that put the Twins ahead to stay.

"Two things about that ballgame," manager Lou Piniella said. "We didn't get runners in from third base with less than two outs twice. And we take a lead and we walk the first two hitters in the fifth inning. That's the difference in the ballgame."

The Rays had been scoring runs consistently but couldn't do anything after red-hot Jose Cruz tripled in two in the fourth.

Heck, they couldn't even get the ball out of the infield in that inning: Julio Lugo, their top RBI man, grounded back to the mound; Robert Fick, who had his first two-hit game since April 23, fouled out to the catcher; and Toby Hall grounded to second.

"The fourth inning was big, stranding a runner at third base," Minnesota starter Seth Greisinger said. "It was really quiet, and all I could hear was (Terry) Mulholland warming up in the bullpen."

Piniella, who had the bullpen warming in the third inning, seemed more disturbed with Bell's performance.

"As soon as you take a lead, you have the ninth hitter coming up, make him hit the ball," Piniella said. "This is not the International League. I'm serious when I say that. You give up walks up here and they score. They score in the minors, but they score here more prevalent."

Bell knew he messed up.

"It's stupid. It's fundamental. And it's wrong," he said. "I understand that. It's not a game you can play and not expect to make mistakes. But those are mistakes that are easily avoidable."

The winning streak wasn't the only thing that ended. When Cristian Guzman singled in Justin Morneau against Danys Baez in the ninth, it was the first run allowed by Rays relievers in 272/3 innings, a streak that lasted more than a week, dating to May 18.

Before the five-game streak, the longest since a team record-tying six in September 2000, the Rays had lost 12 of 13 and 19 of 22.

"Let's start another streak tomorrow, that's all," Piniella said. "I'm pleased with five in a row; I think everybody should be since we're a little banged up. Let's go out there and play a good game tomorrow and go from there."

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