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Running interference

RAYS 2, MARINERS 1 (10): A rare obstruction call on Seattle lets in the winning run in a well-pitched game for Tampa Bay.

DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published August 7, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Devil Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford said he never saw a play like it.

Manager Lou Piniella said he saw it happen once before, though not to end a game.

Either way, Tampa Bay will take it and the 2-1 victory that went with it Friday night at Tropicana Field.

Talk about bizarre. Crawford, tagging at third, was waved home by umpire Paul Emmel, who said Mariners shortstop Jose Lopez intentionally obstructed Crawford's view of leftfielder Raul Ibanez's catch of Tino Martinez's one-out fly.

Even weirder, Crawford, after bluffing a break for home, was trotting back to third as Ibanez's perfect throw reached catcher Miguel Olivo.

"I was wondering what was going on," Crawford said. "I've never been in a situation where that was called. But if that's a rule, it's a good time for it to go into effect."

It was ruled a flyout for Martinez, an error on Lopez and an unearned run.

"I've never seen anything like it," Mariners manager Bob Melvin said. "I have a good relationship with Paul, and he's a good umpire, but that's a horrible call. You cannot end a game unless you are 100 percent sure there is an obstruction. There is no way that was an obstruction.

"The third baseman goes into cutoff position and the shortstop covers third base. That's the worst call I've ever seen. And you can't appeal because it's a judgment call."

Before we continue, a little house cleaning.

Rays starter Dewon Brazelton and reliever Travis Harper put on a clinic.

Brazelton went eight innings, allowed two hits, struck out three and retired 16 of the last 17 batters he faced, including the final 10. Harper improved to 4-2 by pitching a perfect ninth and 10th innings with two strikeouts. And the pitchers combined to retire Seattle's final 16 batters.

Crawford had three hits (he is 8-for-21 in his past five games). Martinez and Rocco Baldelli had two each. Baldelli had seven putouts in centerfield and Jose Cruz had eight in right, though his trap of Ichiro Suzuki's liner in the first was called a diving catch.

Now, back to business.

Lopez, speaking through teammate and interpreter Joel Pineiro, said he did nothing wrong and was just doing his job, which is to cover third when the third baseman becomes the cutoff man.

The problem was, third baseman Willie Bloomquist lingered near the bag.

"In this case both the shortstop and third baseman attempted to impede the runner from seeing when the ball was caught by screening him from the play," crew chief Joe West said. "When they made that play on him (Ibanez's throw), because of the obstruction, you have to score him. That's the rule."

"I had to move a little to the side to see the outfielder," Crawford said.

But Mariners batting coach Paul Molitor said, "There was no intent that I saw. The runner never lost his sight line. It was a phantom."

It was a tough game for Lopez, whose first blunder, though not technically an error, helped the Rays tie the score in the fourth.

With Baldelli on third and Martinez on first with none out after back-to-back singles, Cruz popped to short leftfield. Lopez backpedaled and made the catch in front of Ibanez. Baldelli tagged, and Lopez, with his momentum going backward as he threw, had no chance of getting the speedy centerfielder.

Lopez's bright spot? A second-inning ground ball that slipped past third baseman Aubrey Huff for an error and scored Dan Wilson with the fourth unearned run Tampa Bay allowed in two games and its major league-high 19th since the All-Star break.

But all that was forgotten as the Rays left the field while the Mariners argued the final call and what was left of the announced crowd of 10,452 appeared unsure how to react.

"We saw the replay and the umpire called it immediately," Piniella said. "It's not like he hesitated. It's a break and we'll take it."

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