tampabay.com

Rays losers in defensive musical chairs

Russell Branyan's error at third opens the door for a Yanks rally and 4-1 win.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 28, 2006


NEW YORK - With all the injuries that have savaged their lineup, the Devil Rays have had to move players from one position to another almost daily.

Thursday, the shuffling cost them in a 4-1 loss to the Yankees.

Russell Branyan, making his first start of the season at third base, made an error on a routine sixth-inning ground ball that led to three unearned runs, wasting a solid return to the rotation by Mark Hendrickson.

"Catch that ball and make a double play and he probably throws a complete game shutout," Branyan said. "I kind of (messed up) my feet on that ball, it hit the heel of my glove and came out. I felt like the game was on my shoulders right there, and I didn't come through with it."

The Rays were leading 1-0 when Derek Jeter drew a one-out walk in the sixth. Gary Sheffield's sharp grounder could have been an inning-ending double play, but after Branyan's miscue the Yankees had men on first and second, then the bases loaded after Alex Rodriguez walked.

Jason Giambi's groundout produced one run, and Hideki Matsui's slow bouncing single up the middle scored two.

It was a tough spot for Branyan, who had been used in the outfield and at first base but was playing third in place of Ty Wigginton, who had been playing third in place of injured Aubrey Huff but Thursday was at second in place of injured Jorge Cantu.

"When you haven't been on the dirt in a while it makes it tough to read balls off the bat," Branyan said. "But I still should have made that play. I'm a lot better player than that."

"It was a fungo," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He'll tell you he can make that play 99 out of 100 times. He just misplayed it. It was not a difficult play. It's just unfortunate. I know he feels worse than anybody else."

The Rays felt good about their chances early, with Hendrickson sharp and centerfielder Joey Gathright going over the wall to rob Sheffield of a first-inning homer.

"Sheffield doesn't like me very much right now," Gathright said. "First one. ... I've been waiting to do something like that."

Hendrickson pitched a complete game shutout in his first start April 6, then spent three weeks on the disabled list with shoulder tightness. The Rays limited him to 89 pitches over six innings, but otherwise he looked to be close to top form.

"He pitched great," Maddon said. "As well as he did in Baltimore. They didn't get many firm hits against the boy. I just like what he did."