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ST. PETERSBURG - Sunday's 8-5 loss to St. Louis capped a sweep by the National League's best team. Now the Devil Rays head to Yankee Stadium to face the American League's hottest team.
It would seem that things are going from bad to worse.
But that's only if you're keeping track anymore.
"We're getting beat by everybody so it doesn't really matter if we're playing a below-.500 team or a team above .500," rightfielder Aubrey Huff said. "We've just got to keep playing hard and hope we get some W's. But it doesn't really matter who we play."
The defeat dropped the Rays to 23-46, a season-low 23 games under .500 and back on pace for a franchise-record 108 losses.
They have the second-worst record in the majors, a shade better than the 22-45 Rockies, and will spend much of the next three weeks playing contending teams: the Yankees, Marlins, Twins and White Sox.
"I don't know what to say," manager Lou Piniella said.
"To tell you the truth, I'm hoping to God it gets better. I really do."
The Rays at least had been able to count on something of a homefield advantage, but that disappeared too with a 2-4 homestand that evened their record at Tropicana Field at 18-18.
The road, however, has been a painstaking journey all season. Their 5-28 mark is the worst in the majors and challenging the worst of all time. There isn't much realistic hope for improvement in New York, where the Rays have an overall .211 winning percentage (12-45), and the Yankees are riding a six-game winning streak.
"Brutal," catcher Toby Hall said.
For the Rays to win on the road with any consistency, Piniella said they need two things: good pitching and more confidence. Neither is readily apparent.
"What allows you to win on the road? Pitching and, believe it or not, a swagger," Piniella said. "That when you go into the other team's ballpark, you've got that swagger of a good baseball team."
The pitching the Rays can't do much about expect hope for improvement. Their team ERA on the road is an astronomical 6.69, and they've blown 10 of 12 saves.
The swagger, which the Cardinals clearly had, may be even harder for the Rays to cultivate.
"It's hard for it to come from young players," Piniella said. "You need that veteran presence. Guys that have done it before, they know how to do it, and all of a sudden it starts to filter down through the ballclub."
Sunday's loss was much like the two before it. The Cardinals, who improved to a season-high 20 games over .500 at 44-24, took control in the middle innings, the Rays rallied late and the Cardinals held on.
Sunday, an ineffective start by Doug Waechter contributed heavily to a 7-1 St. Louis lead. The Rays rallied for four in the seventh, with Huff getting his first RBIs since June 3 and his first bases-loaded hit since 2002, but got no closer.
Seven times in the series, including four Sunday, the Rays got the tying run to the plate in the late innings, and they went 0-for-7 with five strikeouts.
"We compete with every team," first baseman Travis Lee said. "I don't think we've been blown out too many times this year. Whenever you're facing the closer in the ninth that means you're right there with them.
"We're competing, but we're just not winning. And there's a big difference."